i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgI got an email from a reader a few days ago posing a doozy of a problem: she’s heading to an interview this week at an institution, and part of her interview involves having “beer with the guys”.

With her permission, I share with you an edited version of her email:

Hi ladies,
I am a job candidate for a tenure track position in my field interviewing at a university in the south in 2 weeks. These are huntin’ fishin’ PhD folks (of course 95% white dude phenotype). There’s 2 women of around 30 faculty in the department (grad students are 50% female). I have some colleagues (three relatively new white male hires) in another department at the university and we would definitely work together – we run in the same circles. And considering what I specialize in, the location and being a land-grant sea-grant university are great for what I am looking for, on paper.

These hiring geniuses scheduled a reception to (and I quote) “have a few beers, shoot the breeze, throw a few back” in the tailgate area behind the building that houses the department. Of course, it’s weather permitting (and I’ll be praying to the rain goddess like a crazed lunatic).

I don’t know if I want the job… that’s what I’ll be there to determine. But there’s no way I am comfortable “throwing a few back” for a job interview. First, I don’t drink. I come from alcoholic family – I don’t touch the stuff. So if I throw a few back, this will mean “throwing back” in the bushes or dumping them out behind cars. I will also be giving the women who show up the impression that drinking must be done to fit in the boys’ club. Drinking might make me “cool” to the guys, but it certainly doesn’t convey competence and authority, which men seem to have trouble seeing in women anyway. If I say “no thanks” for every of the umpteen times I get asked if I want a beer, they will see me as “hoity toity” and not “one of the guys”…. well, no crap, I’m not a guy.

I have been in this position before and scampered away a very wounded woman. So, I’m asking for some solutions to some of what I am anticipating. I’m not naive anymore – I already know how to handle the “are you married/have kids?” question that everyone still asks. This is my 3rd year going on the market – I turned previous lousy offers down.

I can definitely control most things in the confines of the seminar and lecture, during the meetings, and walking around…. but it’s the “lettin’ it all hang out + alcohol” entertainment stuff that just blows my mind for an INTERVIEW. I’m not the “hang with the dudes, drink a few” good-time guy or gal. So how do I manage this event to avoid the most damage and keep some semblance of professionalism and friendliness? I want to leave a good impression for the women, for myself, and learn from this without having scars to show for it.

Any advice for this specific interview situation is GREATLY appreciated. And I’m curious to know if any other sciencewomen have been through “Beer Adventures in Interviewing” before and walked away un-defeated and not drunk. Thank you in advance.

All the best,
Are Ader.

Geez, Are, it sounds like you’ve got quite a pickle. I do think you’re stuck going at the very least, as the interview is next week. My first idea was to get a beer and hold on to it, and not drink it or anything. If people keep offering you beers, you’ve already got one, thanks. Or you could get one, put it down somewhere, and then when you’re asked again, say vaguely, “Oh, no thanks, I have one somewhere, just have to go find it.” I’d also ask some info questions, like “do you have these gatherings often in your department? Does everyone come?” to help you judge whether you want to continue to pursue this job.

I know, this sounds like lame advice even to me.

How about the rest of you, what do you recommend for Are? And do you have any survival stories you can share with her to send her well on her way for her interview? Are, will you give us an update after the interview?


  1. #1 Ivan
    August 24, 2008

    First off, You have got to be #$%^&* kidding me. Throwing a few back? At an interview?

    Are you close enough to the colleagues in another department to confidentially discuss this with them. Sometimes this can be quashed through the grapevine without it being put on you. I.e. your colleague might have a friend in the department who they know to be sympathetic who can work behind the scene to get this changed?

    I would really hope that someone in the department would get your schedule in the email and say something to the search committee chair like…. “Are we doing this for all of the candidates? Do we know for a fact that they are all actually drinkers?”
    But if that isn’t going to happen spontaneously, maybe that is message could be conveyed through backdoor channels.

    Saving that, I like Alice’s suggestion of getting and holding on to a beer without drinking it (choose one in a brown bottle if possible, don’t peel the label).

    If this is the last event of your day, you could always fake an illness. On an interview last fall, I got an actual case of food poisoning and had to skip out on dinner. They were very understanding and later offered me the job.

  2. #2 SimonG
    August 24, 2008

    This doesn’t strike me as a terribly odd thing to do, (although I’m a bloke, so that might not mean anything). When I interviewed for my present job, (or at least, the one which developed into my present job) I went to the pub with a couple of my prospective colleagues. It doesn’t seem a bad thing to get to know them a bit in an informal setting; and to give them an opportunity to see you, too.

    If you don’t want to drink, tell them. It shouldn’t be a big deal: lots of people don’t drink for various reasons. If they think it is a big deal then at least you’ll know that about them.

    I’m sure their intention is to be friendly and show you that they’re good people who you’ll enjoy working with.

  3. #3 Are
    August 24, 2008

    Ivan – I’ll be meeting with the “other dept folks” after the formal interview stuff. There was no way to schedule them in, ya know, around the beer and all. I did ask them to show up for the partyyy, but I don’t want to come off as a “damsel in distress” who can’t handle this herself.
    I also wonder if this is something endemic to the southern schools? I’m not from ’round here.
    I think I would be offered the job if I got alcohol poisoning!?!
    Alice – many thanks.
    Are Ader.

  4. #4 Emily
    August 24, 2008

    I was in a similar situation this last winter when interviewing for grad school. Both times were with grad students and other interviewing students – no faculty or staff – so it wasn’t quite as threatening of a situation, but still enough to cause a predicament. I do drink, but not beer – I just don’t like it. I ended up just saying “no thanks” if someone offered me one, and made sure to keep water or soda in my hand. No one seemed to care too much. I did get asked if I didn’t drink, and when I said I didn’t like beer they just agreed and said something about it being an acquired taste. I’ve noticed that most people are understanding if you say you don’t drink (at least in my city, which is fairly liberal…not sure how things are down south).

  5. #5 scattered scientist
    August 24, 2008

    I think that keeping a drink in your hand would work well during the event itself. However, if you end up taking the job, you would be committing yourself to repeating the performance at similar events or later revealing that you don’t drink and (depending on your colleagues’ memories) sparking gossip that you might be pregnant, might have had a drinking problem, etc.

    Maybe you could respond to the organizer and say that the tailgate sounds great, but since you don’t drink, you’d appreciate it if they could stock some [ginger ale, lemonade…]? If you keep a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand, you can still say “I already have one” in response to an offer of a drink, and that might be a little less heavy than “I don’t drink”.

    It’s an awkward situation, but perhaps they want to provide you with some social time and this is just what they do. The upside is that you’ll have the upper hand in terms of impulse control; it might be easier to get the ‘dirt’ on the department from slightly intoxicated colleagues.

  6. #6 Tuff Cookie
    August 24, 2008

    I haven’t gotten to the interview stage yet, but I did have an interesting situation all through my undergraduate career. My family arranged a trust fund for all the grandkids provided we didn’t drink or smoke, etc. before it was legal. And I didn’t.

    Being in a geology department, this became a bit of a problem. I got teased quite a bit, but I quickly found that the people who really respected me didn’t pursue it. Even when I could legally drink, I didn’t want to all the time (I hate beer, a terrible thing for a geologist), and my peers respected that. (I ended up being the designated driver a few times, but I thought it wasn’t a bad tradeoff.)

    The short of it is, if these people really respect you, and want you for a colleague, they won’t make a fuss when you’re honest and say “I don’t want any alcohol right now, thanks” or “I don’t drink”. If they don’t, then you probably don’t want them for colleagues. It’s not unprofessional to say that you’d rather have a soda, and then tell a joke or recount an amusing anecdote. As long as you can contribute something to the conversation once in a while – and if they’re being polite, they should try to include you – you’ll be fine.

    And if they go into the finer points of jock itch or the infield fly rule…well, you can either steer the conversation or run.

  7. #7 Ivan
    August 24, 2008

    Are- I think you probably are stuck going. I would sit down and think out some answers to alcholol related questions so that you don’t have to think of the “best ” answer on the spot. (I have done this for the “are you married/have kids” questions which you always get, although usually from people who are just trying to figure out if they should tell you about the great schools in the area).

    If it were me, I would hold on to that one beer and if you get queried on it say that you “don’t drink much” and that you sure as hell aren’t going to go crazy at an interview and become fodder for all those how-to-interview-well speakers.

    You might also get asked what you like to drink. Not sure how to handle that one. Maybe say you don’t drink enough to have a clear favorite, or that you like to drink things that complement the food you’re eating.


  8. #8 ScienceWoman
    August 24, 2008

    As a light to non-drinker and someone who awkwardly held onto and dumped beers throughout college parties, I disagree with all the people who say to just hold on to a beer. I’ve been giving it some thought, and here’s what I think I’d do if I were in your situation. I’d call or email the department chair ahead of time and explain that you don’t drink and ask that he stock some non-alcoholic drinks for you. If he presses you, I’d be forthright and explain that you have a family history of alcoholism and you never touch the stuff. If he still gives you a hard time, I’d run away from the job screaming. You don’t want to work for someone like that. After running away from the job, I’d write a letter to the dean or the affirmative action office and complain about how you were treated. (Are, I don’t know how long you’ve been a reader, but I’m not just idly talking here, I did file an AA complaint a few years back). Best of luck to you, and do let us know it goes.

  9. #9 decrepitoldfool
    August 24, 2008

    Speaking as a non-drinker (male) I can attest it’s sometimes awkward to say “no thanks” for the 15th time in an evening. But I don’t pretend to drink. I don’t like sports either so I’m twice an atheist. I wind up talking about technology with the other geeks and they don’t care if I drink or not. She won’t have that option.

    As inappropriate as it is to have an alcohol mixer as part of an interview, the evening will certainly tell her what she needs to know about them. Their intentions might be kindly but it’s a hell of a spot to put an interviewee in.

  10. #10 AndyB
    August 24, 2008

    The drinking question is incredibly awkward- I don’t drink myself, yet it’s a constant fixture of social gatherings in my department.

    It might be best to come out and ask for something non-alcoholic; trying too hard to fit in would only postpone the awkward phase. For that matter, fudging the truth runs the risk that someone will call you on it- which may not be the sort of behavior you want them to remember from the job interview.

  11. #11 Chris
    August 24, 2008

    Quote: “A doozy of a problem”???
    Quote: “Part of her interview involves having “beer with the guys”.”
    So in other words, she has an interview, then they’re planning on a more relaxed, social gathering afterwards, at which there will be, (shock, horror), beer?
    Go along, chat to them, if you’re asked if you want a beer, say “No thanks, I don’t drink, throw me a coke/whatever”.

    You need advice for this? You aren’t gonna fit in there….

  12. #12 Jim Thomerson
    August 24, 2008

    I would be up front about coming from an alcoholic family, and therefore not drinking. I would not fake it. To thine own self be true, etc. etc. At the same time, don’t make people uncomfortable about drinking in your presence. There is something to be said for being cold sober whilst others get a little tipsy. You will learn more about them than they learn about you.

    At one time my wife’s department chair was a recovered alcoholic. He would drink ginger ale and have a great time.

  13. #13 randy
    August 24, 2008

    I don’t drink either. If they mean going out to dinner, where you may order wine or beer with dinner, that is one thing. To go out to a bar, unprofessional.

    my advise, don’t go on the interview. clearly not the department for you. Further, contact the institutions Provost, HR and EEOC department. They need to know.

    Scienc women, I believe you offered good advise followed by bad advise. Yes, call the chair and say you don’t care to toss a few back as part of the interview, but that you are more than willing to be part of an informal gathering as part of the process. However, one should not have to (and should not period) disclose anything about family history (ie.history of alcoholism in family).

  14. #14 Nic
    August 24, 2008

    Oh Are, I feel your pain, on so many levels. My grad experience has been a real eye-opener in terms of seeing alcohol consumption being a mainstay in all recruitment and social events, much to my chagrin. They do always offer the non-alcohol events but never really promote them, or give them much thought, so those that would be interested in them end up going off to the bar anyway because they feel it would hurt their interview.

    I totally agree with Sciencewoman’s advice above. Do you want to work at a place which will make you feel awkward about a personal decision? This would be a good litmus test; no one should care if you decide to consume alcohol. Imagine substituting in smoking for drinking alcohol to see why anyone being offended by your decision is a nutbag.

    I can think of some good excuses though:

    – Sorry, my alcohol dehydrogenase is mutated so I can’t process the alcohol very well
    – Pregnancy (can’t keep this going though)
    – I have a gluten allergy so I must abstain (this would be turning down cookies so I don’t know….)
    – Allergy (can always make up a story about how you got really pink and puffy; I used this for why I didn’t want to eat meat – it avoids dramatic discussion)

  15. #15 Brian Puccio
    August 24, 2008

    I’d go, but not drink. I doubt they’d say “we can’t hire her, she doesn’t drink”. If they were the type to say “we can’t hire her, she doesn’t drink” is that really a place you want to work for?

  16. #16 llewelly
    August 24, 2008

    Whatever you do, do not pretend to drink alcohol. Order coffee, or water, or soda. Faking it would be stressful – and if you took the job, you’d be expected to fake it again and again. Just make sure you’ve something else to drink, explain that you don’t drink (it wouldn’t hurt at all to mention a history of alcoholism in your family), and if there’s any problem at all with you not drinking, do not take the job.

  17. #17 Academic
    August 24, 2008

    I find social events with alcohol uber-awkward. Usually my way of dealing with them is to drive myself or not go altogether. I don’t mind going to a bar at a conference for a conversation (I just order Coke) but I do not see the necessity at any casual departmental gathering. Sounds like a really tough situation. Good luck Are!

  18. #18 decrepitoldfool
    August 24, 2008

    Chris, as a non-drinker I can assure you that having barbecue and beer or whatever is one thing, but “throwing a few back” is something else again. At the former, no one will notice if you don’t drink alcohol. But it’s the whole point of the latter event.

    Mistaking alcohol for fun is a common social frame.

  19. #19 Ivan
    August 24, 2008

    Chris- I will second what decripitoldfool says. It’s not necessarily that its bad for them to have an informal reception with a more relaxed atmosphere. But putting the phrase “knocking a few back” on the schedule definitely suggests a more hard core drinking environment. I have had several interviews that had casual late day informal times, but they were usually listed as “informal receptions” and there was never any suggestion that the purpose was to drink.

  20. #20 Ivan
    August 24, 2008

    Are- I would second the advice above that you not mention your families alcohol history. It’s none of their $%^&* business.

    I should have mentioned that I am a drinker when I suggested that you take the “nurse one and only one approach”. I am fairly picky about what I drink so I have often taken this approach, but I think llewelly and decriptoldfool may be right that it’s best not to fake it.

    Whatever you do, try not to let them make you uncomfortable (easier said than done).

  21. #21 Petr
    August 25, 2008

    “That you for the invitation, but as it happens, I don’t drink alcohol. While I have no objection to others enjoying their beer, I’d feel a little odd being the guest of honor at a drinking-focused event. An interviewee feels isolated enough as it is. Is there some other venue available for such informal introductions?

    “Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but I associate tailgate parties with pickup trucks, kegs of the cheapest possible beer, and painting sports team logos on your face. I’m not sure how to handle that as part of a faculty interview outside the University of Woolloomooloo philosophy department.”

    That second paragraph is meant to ask for some reassurance while showing a sense of humor about it. Maybe it IS a misunderstanding and “knock a few back” is just southern dialect for a get-together that shouldn’t be taken too literally.

    Addendum that’s hopefully implicit:

    “I know you want to avoid personality clashes, and I’ll work to fit in, but can you meet me halfway here?”

    An alternative approach that, in hindsight, seems better:

    “Thank you for the invitation, but I should warn you that I don’t drink alcohol. While I’m happy for others to enjoy their beer, if it would be awkward for the guest of honor not to indulge, perhaps there’s time to shift the venue slightly?”

    This doesn’t imply any hesitation on your part, just consideration for their hospitality and not embarrassing THEM. And if they say they want to go ahead, well, you warned them. Grab some iced tea (also a southern staple) and ignore the matter.

  22. #22 Mike Fox
    August 25, 2008

    I’m allergic to beer. Tell them you are, too.

    Wear nice clothes and tell them you didn’t think they were serious, laugh, and take them to a ‘real’ restaurant.

  23. #23 Jennie
    August 25, 2008

    Good luck with this. I side with the group that suggest NOT faking the drinking. My family is full of alcoholics and it’s nothing to mess around with. I also agree with e-mailing who ever sent you the itinerary and mention that you are confused by the “have a few beers, shoot the breeze, throw a few back”
    ask if there will be more than beer there, who will be attending (grad students, profs, staff?). Then try to treat it as a social event to learn more about your potential colleagues. Try not to judge the group by this one statement and keep an open mind but, like I said, get a little more information about the event first.

  24. #24 Are
    August 25, 2008

    “Fit” is such an important part of dept hiring. Obviously 95% white males is a signal that women don’t fit. I am certainly qualified for the job. It is a new position so the people currently in the dept really don’t have much experience or knowledge about it. I will certainly collaborate with other depts.
    I have been in previous depts as a grad student where there were receptions for seminar speakers. All fine and well. I don’t have a problem with having a wine social at a profs house later that night. And I wouldn’t mind at all if this was a conference and some colleagues and I were to go to a pub for a bite and drink (if they choose alcohol, fine, they are friends). But this is a job interview. I’m supposed to show my best foot not my bendy elbow or my alcohol tolerance on an empty stomach. If a dept of 95% women threw a tea party or a scrapbooking sale during an interview, a man interviewee would flip. Women (uh, professional women) don’t stand out in a parking lot to shoot the crap with the boys and have a beer to impress them for a job. My point is that this isn’t about the job. It’s another way that women are shown to not be a ‘fit’ by the boys club. Would these guys expect their wives and daughters to ‘throw some back’ for a job?

    Because I don’t know these people (and my friends in the other depts don’t either), I am not sure if this ‘reception’ is the brain child of the search committee or as has been pointed out, if they do this ‘for’ every candidate. If they do this ‘for’ every candidate, then I’m not surprised at the lineup of new asst profs being all white male in their dept. They proved they were men with bendy elbows and hence, a good fit.

    I totally agree this is a way to weed them out. Again, how many women weed these kinds of places out? It’s not about the job. It’s not about our abilities. It’s about us not being like the rest of them — male. In this case, frat boy?

    I think talking to the search chair about my not drinking would be like telling him about my last pap smear. I don’t see that as an option. I can picture the ‘glazed over’ look already. I think saying I don’t drink to the masses will be taken as a negative, and women in science have an uphill battle as it goes. Neutral is a better reaction than negative. If I get the job and take it, then it will be the last little alcohol event they have as part of an interview FOR SURE. I will absolutely put the kabutz on that. And I will work to bring more women in. I hope they found a woman for the search committee and I will absolutely nicely point out to her in private how whacked the interview process is (but if she’s one woman in a comm with 4 men then they probably dismiss her anyway as the token female).

    I’m liking the idea to say I am allergic and to grab a dark cup for tea. I’ll dress super nice – wouldn’t want to ruin my silk shirt (more) in 100 deg weather??!! If I see a keg (and I pray to god I don’t), I’m calling a cab.

    Petr – I will practice those lines – Thanks much. I am pretty good at pulling off one-liners with a smile.

  25. #25 Leigh
    August 25, 2008

    They MAY be trying to discourage uppity Yankee women from coming to their department. Then again, maybe they are just trying to get to know their candidates in a relaxed atmosphere.

    Since I’m from East Texas, I feel qualified to answer this one. Go to the tailgater. Be relaxed and sociable. When offered a beer, say, “I have alcoholics in my family, so I haven’t acquired the taste. Do y’all have a coke?” Be sure to ask for a coke, not a soda or a pop. Don’t be surprised if they ask what kind of coke you want — coke is southern generic for soft drink. If they don’t have a coke, don’t make a big deal out of it. Drag out the cold Coke you brought along in your capacious attache/briefcase.

    If they’re assholes about it, there’s your answer; bid them adieu and move along. That may also be your answer if they’ve not brought along any cokes; their work culture might be suspect. But if you’ve carried it off lightly and casually and nobody blinks an eye, you have a different answer, and may conclude that they’re harmless good ole’ boys who may have redeeming features as potential colleagues — assuming that the department otherwise met your criteria, of course.

  26. #26 Leigh
    August 25, 2008

    And by the way, I would wear a skirt, flattering shoes, lipstick, and earrings. After the interview, you can wear whatever you want, but for some reason most Southern men I know seem to initially judge a bright woman as smarter and more competent when she looks ladylike. I know that’s counterintuitive, but it’s certainly been my experience.

  27. #27 Dawn
    August 25, 2008

    I think it’s a bad idea to lie or try to make it seem like you’re drinking when you don’t want to be. There’s no problem with letting people know what you do and do not want to do. If they hold something like not wanting to have a beer against you in the end, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be working there anyway. I do think you’re reading a little bit too much into this whole thing — I think they just want to get across that this will be an informal gathering, and it is unfortunate that it was done in a way in which you don’t really relate. Wait until you get there and see what it’s like before jumping to any conclusions about them just wanting you to be ‘one of the guys.’

    I also think you need to try not to be quite so judgmental about the south in general. I grew up in the south and have lived most of my life since high school in the north (about an equal amount of time on both sides, actually). I tend to find most stereotypes that southerners have about northerners kind of funny…and vice versa. They are exactly that: stereotypes. When it comes down to it, there aren’t such wild differences as everybody would maybe like there to be. I can tell you, for example, that people in rural western New York “ain’t” too much different from suburban Atlanta. Sometimes the mode of communication is a bit different, and honestly there’s a lot of miscommunication out there. Why can’t we all just get along? πŸ˜‰

  28. #28 Becca
    August 25, 2008

    Woah, weird.
    My guess is they probably think they’ll get to know the “real you” better if they have an alcohol-infused social event. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they wouldn’t like the real (“professional” “non-drinker”) you, just as you are. People don’t always think these things through.

    Although, I gotta say, there have been times in my life I’ve been a drinker, and I don’t think it’s intrinsically unprofessional for women (I’m still scratching my head over that one).
    Of course, I’m more usually a “non-drinker” and I’ve never had any trouble telling people I don’t drink. I think I live in a different world from everyone else here.

  29. #29 prelevent
    August 25, 2008

    I agree with most of the comments suggesting that there is a degree of overreaction here.

    I was in grad school at a university in the southern US, and when our department was hiring new people, they would often schedule the interview on a day when some kind of a gathering was usually being held (in our school the Bio department got together every friday, and if memory serves most of the interviews took place on a friday as well). The people in the department got along well, and yes, alcohol was there for people who wanted to drink it. Most of the department showed up each week, both the men and the women. The people who had come to the school for the interview often did stay for the gathering. It allowed for a more casual way for the people in the department to get to know the potential hire and also for that person to get a look at what the people in the department were really like. An interview can be a crazy stressful process, and these events tended to take the edge off. I went almost every week, but I never drank a drop and nobody ever judged me for my lack of alcohol consumption. I only went to hang out with friends, get to know people and eat some good food.

    I think you already have your answer to your query… you don’t want this job, and this job probably doesn’t want you. You have already judged the department as being run by sexist frat boys, and you have suggested your willingness to be deceptive (by pretending to drink) to get what you want. I know that sounds harsh, but I think it comes off as less harsh than some of the other things you wrote.

    I know the job market is rough, but in reading the the postings you have left, it is obvious that you don’t see this place as somewhere you want to spend the next many years of your life. If you are still looking for advice, I say write this one off, and keep looking. Or take a step back and try to not looking at this as though it were some kind of a hazing event.

  30. #30 dave
    August 25, 2008

    Having been a non-drinker for most of my adult life (and still an extremely light drinker), I’ll side with the people who are recommending making it clear that you don’t drink (in advance if possible) and seeing what response comes back. There’s no need to give the reasons why up front, and a one-short-sentence answer (if that) is enough if people ask; if “I don’t drink” (or “I don’t drink beer” if that’s more appropriate) isn’t enough for them, you don’t want to be working with them as a non-drinker anyways.
    If they really mean “informal/relaxed gathering”, not drinking won’t be a problem, and how it goes will give information about how you’d fit there outside of formal qualifications (if most of them have a beer or two, that’s rather different than if most of them are drinking heavily); if they really mean “keg party”, then you don’t want to be there anyways.

  31. #31 keil
    August 25, 2008

    I’ve never seen grown professional/academic adults, from the south, north, or many other nations for that matter, have a problem with a non-drinker. It’s a very simple matter of social navigation, you should be a more relaxed person and have confidence in yourself in social situations.

    You seem like you have a problem with the erm.. demographic that they represent. The south is anti-elitist, so even academics have learned to be sociable and ‘down to earth’ in that area. It says nothing about their underlying personality, they are still intellectuals. They have adapted to their social environment. Northern intellectuals can be eccentric elitists, southerners cannot. If you take time out from seeing them as a monolithic stereotype, ‘95% white males, beer drinkers, southerners etc’, and see them as complex individuals, you will be coming from a much healthier place.

  32. #32 Kate
    August 25, 2008

    “Women (uh, professional women) don’t stand out in a parking lot to shoot the crap with the boys”

    They don’t? I do. I also like football too. I guess that doesn’t make me a very good woman. Hmm, wonder what my sewing says about me?

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with hanging out with people and talking with them. This gathering is not inherently masculine, just as going to the opera is not inherently feminine.

    They are having a relaxed gathering to try to relieve some of the pressure of an interview. This is there way of trying to get you to fit in. This isn’t necessary about the booze – it’s about relaxing with your possible future colleagues. If you can’t handle that… you need to learn more socialization skills.

    There is even a study – social drinkers earn more than non-drinkers ( Drinking itself is not the important part, it’s being social, it’s talking, it’s putting yourself out there.

    If you can’t handle an event where you have a soda instead of a beer, then you probably should just stay home. And about the a-holes who may pressure you – there are all kinds everywhere and the sooner you can learn to ignore them, the better off you’ll be.

  33. #33 Leni
    August 25, 2008

    I would absolutely not bring up your alcoholic family. That’s way too much information for a job interview and you will make everyone feel uncomfortable. Conversation killer, guaranteed. And I agree with the others that faking it is not the best idea. Some jobs might be worth that, but I’m guessing this isn’t one of them.

    I don’t think you even need to explain why, but if you feel like you must, just say that you have plans an hour or after it starts, don’t want to drink and drive and would prefer a coke or ice tea (or sweet tea or whatever they call it) or something. Smile, be friendly and put on your best game face. Then when the time is up, tell them it was a pleasure and be on your merry way.

    Women (uh, professional women) don’t stand out in a parking lot to shoot the crap with the boys and have a beer to impress them for a job. My point is that this isn’t about the job.

    I think you are making a bit much out of this, Are. I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but professional women do and can drink, just as professional men can. (I’m female, by the way.) Most people don’t drink in parking lots, male or female, professional or not. And who knows- maybe you’ll have a nice time and, despite the fact that you seem to think these people are beneath you, you might actually enjoy yourself!

    I agree it’s a little odd, and I can see why it would be off-putting, but I don’t think there are necessarily any sinister intentions here. I’d guess it’s probably a somewhat regular occurrence and they’re simply trying to include you, which is actually kind of nice, if you think about it.

  34. #34 travc
    August 25, 2008

    Apologies in advance for being profane and rude, but it is part of the point…

    WTF is the problem? Having a little party or going out the local bar/pub is completely normal at every school I’ve ever even visited. Not every department does it, but I think it is quite common in biology and geology, and not unusual for some other disciplines.

    Hell, some version of “Friday Beer” is a venerable (and very nice) tradition to get people out of their labs and offices to socialize, learn what others are working on, and share ideas.

    The alcohol ‘issue’ should be completely a non-issue at the level of post-docs and professors (and the vast majority of grad-students). “Throwing back a few” isn’t a requirement, it is merely a way saying the get together is informal and convivial.

    Sorry, I am getting the distinct impression you are being WAY too sensitive. You are a presumable intelligent adult meeting and hopefully getting to know your potential colleagues. If the fact that the department wants to have an informal social get together somehow bothers you, you should definitely look for someplace else.

    If the “land grant and sea grant” stuff indicates you are interesting in working with oceanographers or other ‘domain scientists’ (people who do field work), then you have a huge problem. I would suggest finding a different line of work if you can’t overcome the over-sensitivity.

    BTW: Don’t even consider somehow ‘faking’ drinking alcohol. That is puerile and childish in the extreme. If that somehow disappoints your potential colleagues, then you don’t want to work there (I very much doubt anyone will care in the slightest though).

  35. #35 Hilary PhD
    August 25, 2008

    From a UK perspective I’m just astonished. I’m sure that an invitation to a job candidate to “have a few beers, shoot the breeze, throw a few back” with “the guys” (in a tailgate area not even a respectable bar!!) would expose any employer to an extremely high risk of a very expensive lawsuit for indirect sexual and probably racial discrimination.

    Don’t you American women have any backbone at all? Instead of arguing about how to respond as a non-drinker, show this place up for the stinking pile of neanderthal shit it is.

  36. #36 travc
    August 25, 2008

    “Women (uh, professional women) don’t stand out in a parking lot to shoot the crap with the boys”

    Depends on the profession. You obviously aren’t a field biologist.

    Hell, I’ve been to a ‘party’ in a courtyard drinking beer with the director of a $10 million NSF center… and she is a computer scientist! (The most ‘professional’ professional woman I’ve ever worked with… breathtakingly intelligent and productive.)

    I should also mention that ‘shoot the crap’ in this case almost certainly involves talking about research interests, what people are currently working on, and various other geeky things.

  37. #37 Confluence
    August 25, 2008

    The comments advising you to bail out now just to be on the safe side make me sad. On the one hand, I understand that people want to avoid potentially awkward and unpleasant situations if they’ve had bad experiences with this kind of thing before. On the other hand, will there ever be more women in this department if all female candidates think “there are no other women there, and they seem to have invited me to a guy thing; I obviously won’t fit in”; without giving it a chance?

    I would optimistically assume that the purpose of the meeting is the informal conversation, not the beer. I would go, politely decline alcoholic drinks and have non-alcoholic drinks instead, and not treat it like a big deal (because it shouldn’t be a big deal). I do occasionally drink a little, but never in a strange location around people I don’t know very well, so I definitely wouldn’t drink at something like this.

    Since it sounds like a private reception with drinks provided by the organisers, I would email them beforehand and ask if they could also obtain some non-alcoholic drinks (and name some options that you actually like and would drink). I wouldn’t say that you don’t drink. It shouldn’t be any of their business whether you don’t drink, seldom drink or would just prefer not to drink at this event — or why you have made this decision.

    If it turns out to be a horrible booze-fest, or you get the impression that your not drinking *is* a big deal — well, then you’ll know it’s not a nice place to work, and you should probably complain (if only to make them aware that their work environment is crappy and scares people away).

  38. #38 eengineer
    August 25, 2008

    As a scientist who likes to ‘throw a few back’ with my colleagues from time to time, I have a hard time believing that they would consider the fact that you do not imbibe alcohol at their gathering to be a real strike against you. If they do, it is probably not a place you would be happy at, anyway. For me and those I work with, quality research and the ability to work well with others comes first; having common social interests is just a bonus.

  39. #39 Jessica
    August 25, 2008

    Coming from an academic career in the south, having a social as part of the interview is nothing new and nothing to worry about. There is no need to contact the chair ahead of time. You are the candidate for this job. People are taking advantage of this opportunity to meet you and try to impress you. You not drinking will not shock them. You’re on a job interview for cryin’ out loud. If there are no non-alcoholic beverages around (which would surprise me) ask someone to get you water. It is no ones business why you don’t drink; you don’t owe anyone an explanation. This is a great observation opportunity for you. I like the idea of asking if these socials occur weekly. How slammed do faculty/students/staff get at these events? Does everyone usually attend? Attend the event, be social, and have learning more about the department.

  40. #40 Jessica
    August 25, 2008

    Whoops, have “fun” learning about the department

  41. #41 Andrea M
    August 25, 2008

    Disclaimer: I am white, male and I like beer. So maybe I am missing the point due to lack of exprience in this field.

    However, I will however give my two cents:

    1 – Faking would be a terrible idea. You are starting your interview with a lie. Not nice. It will bite your ass later on. There is also no need for justification – just tell them you don’t drink. No need to feel awkward there. If they don’t accept the unsettling fact of life that not all people are binge drinkers, they are assholes and you simply should not take the job. Their loss. Laugh is on their stupidity.

    2 – Although the phrasing is odd, it might just be that the event is a way of allowing you to ask serious question in a more informal and relaxed environment, e.g. when the boss ain’t there. In my own experience that’s when you can find out how the department really is and where the problems are. Plus, remember that in vino veritas. You can ask lot of questions when they are shitfaced and they won’t lie to you. A great way of knowing what is REALLY going on in that department.

    3 – Once you have done this, if you have time, also try to schedule an all-girl meeting with the 3 women in the department to have a more feminine (and therefore not skewed) perspective on how much gender discrimination is an issue in that department.

  42. #42 Professor in Training
    August 25, 2008

    As a fellow non-drinker I also dread the “throw a few beers back” situations. I don’t make a big deal about my non-drinking though and if anyone asks if I would like a beer/wine/etc, I usually just say “no thanks”. I typically won’t go into details, but if asked, I’m pretty open about why I don’t drink and the majority of people respect my decision – those that don’t aren’t people I choose to associate with anyway.

    This could be a potentially uncomfortable situation but it might not turn out to be as bad as it sounds (although it doesn’t sound that great). Just keep an open mind, try to be sociable and stay on your guard … this is still an interview after all and it’s likely that the people you meet will be asked for their opinion(s) about you.

    Good luck.

  43. #43 Tomas
    August 25, 2008

    I am another male who likes beer and I will second everything that Jessica and Andrea M have written. I also think it’s an incredibly bad idea to fake drinking. You come to the new place as yourself not as someone who wants to fit in at any cost. If you don’t want to drink they have to respect that and, even though I do not know anything about them, I would bet they will.
    You also do not have to provide any explanation why you do not drink, I think “I don’t drink” is perfectly sensible and complete explanation. You may tell them about your familly alcoholism problems if you want to but you are the one who decides whether they need to know that or not.
    I understand you may feel antagonized by this all male beer drinking group but there is one thing that you have in common: you are scientists and scientists, as far as I know, love to talk about their science. They will be more interested to talk about the field you study than in whether you drink or not.
    Also an interview is not only about whether they want you to be a member of their team it is also about whether you want to do the job with them. And an informal beer with the guys is a good way to find out regardless of whether you actually drink beer or not. So my advice is for you to go there with an open mind and see for yourself. They might turn out to be all that you fear, in that case, do not take the job. But meaybe they are people who you will like, you’ll never know unless you try.

  44. #44 Female Engineering Professor
    August 25, 2008

    This sounds like a fun department full of collegiality. Collegiality can go a long way for a new faculty member displaced from home.
    I’m a non-drinker from the south and I’ve NEVER had any problem happily sipping my diet coke at high school parties, college parties, or bar crawling with my colleagues at conferences. You might mention to the chair or hiring committee contact that you’d appreciate it if they stock a few non-alcoholic options, but I wouldn’t feel pressured to explain the whole family story if you’re not comfortable.
    I agree with some of the other commenters that this isn’t a pickle or weird. You just need to be comfortable in your own skin and own your decisions. Don’t make up silly stories or apologize.

  45. #45 yttrai
    August 25, 2008

    As a chick, this sounds to me like a misguided but honest effort to break the ice. I had a few similar moments when i was becoming fast friends with the person in grad school i was closest to – a Muslim, and after a few false starts involving beer, and non-halal marinades, we were best friends for the entire 4 years.

    My advice is also to attend but not drink. You really don’t have to say why – i attend all sorts of parties with drinkers and nondrinkers, and when asked if you want a drink, “yes, please, a diet coke” really is all you have to say. You mention the fear of pressure to join in, but i have actually never seen that firsthand outside of a dorm or frat/sorority.

    Good luck and if the department isn’t for you, then you’ll certainly find out!

  46. #46 Bee
    August 25, 2008

    I can’t imagine that this isn’t just their idea of having an informal get-to-know-each-other session, and see no reason why you can’t just attend, drink soft drinks and engage in the getting-to-know-you aspects.

    Haul out a soft drink before anyone offers you a beer, if it will make you feel more confident to have something in hand. Be upfront, when the beer question comes up, before or during, just say you’re looking forward to partying with them but you don’t drink.

    There’s no need to tell anyone why; it’s your business, and in this century, I doubt anyone is surprised to run into a non-drinker at a social event. I also cannot think of anyone I know (and I know a lot of drinkers) who would fault someone for not drinking.

    I think you’re making way too big a deal of this because it’s outside your experience and you think it will be awkward. You are to some extent demonizing these men before you’ve even met them by thinking they will react negatively to a non-drinker.

  47. #47 Mommyprof
    August 25, 2008

    Don’t lie or fake anything. You are trying to find out fit, and if you are not authentic, you won’t know if you fit. Show up and bring a bottle of water or whatever with you. When they offer you a drink, say “I’d love a (ginger ale, lemonade, diet whatever)” and if they don’t have, just say “That’s ok. I’m fine with this. Tell me about the students here.”

    I’ve had this happen on interviews, and that’s what I did. I still got the job.

  48. #48 Don
    August 25, 2008

    I’m a drinker but I frequently attend events where I stick to soft drinks because I may need to drive. If someone were to ask, ‘Aren’t you drinking?’ or some such I would probably reply, ‘No, and it’s making me really irritable. Do you have a point to make?’

    Seriously, I doubt if anyone would notice a fellow attendee sticking to tonic water or whatever. Definitely don’t pretend.

    Of course, if you decide you don’t want the job you could always take the can of beer, consider it with elaborate loathing and throw it back into the ice bucket remarking, ‘Jesus Christ, do you dweebs actually drink this cat-piss?’

  49. #49 PhysioProf
    August 25, 2008

    This kind of shit is just so fucked up. Coincidentally, some of us have been discussing this exact issue–“hanging out” with professional colleagues–over at Female Science Professor’s joint:

    I have explicitly chosen not to befriend my trainees and/or to socialize with them regularly. We go out for lunch a few times a year to celebrate noteworthy events in the lab, but that is it. No drinking parties, no rock-climbing excursions, no river-rafting trips, no museum visits, etc.

    This ensures that we maintain an equitable environment where no member of my lab has greater or lesser access to professional scientific interaction with me or with each other depending on the whims of their hobbies or personal lives. That kind of extramural shit also definitely has a very uneven impact on scientists with children–particularly female scientists with children–who really can’t go away on rock-climbing trips with a bunch of unmarried doucheknockers in matching turtlenecks.

  50. #50 Orange
    August 25, 2008

    Someone needs to lighten up a little bit – why treat this like a sinister situation? They’re trying to be nice and friendly and welcoming. Why not go? Drink a coke and make no mention of alcohol – your family’s history of alcoholism is none of their business. And since they’re going out of their way to be friendly, even if it is less than your ideal method, at least you could return the favor.

  51. #51 neurowoman
    August 25, 2008

    Original poster and others are making way too big a thing out of this – the “knocking a few back” is pretty clearly intended to convey an informal get-together – and no one will care that you’re not drinking alcohol. Simply say no thank you if offered, say ‘I don’t drink’ and let it go. I went to interviews where I was pregnant and couldn’t drink, and it was no big deal. If you don’t make a big deal out of it (and make your hosts feel like jerks) neither will they. Most likely they just want interviewees to feel like they are a fun, sociable department (and are phrasing it badly). How about giving them the benefit of the doubt. Let the scheduler (usually an assistant, not the committee chair!) know ahead of time that you’d like a non-alcoholic option.

    Yes, interviews should be comfortable for interviewees of all backgrounds, but I don’t think that this is intended to ‘weed out’ the non-good-ol-boys. Don’t you want an opportunity to get to know who you’ll be working with for the next decade? See how they interact with each other? It’s amazing what comes out in a more casual, less guarded conversation…

  52. #52 neurowoman
    August 25, 2008

    btw- how do you answer the “married/kids” questions? I am still trying to figure out that one myself…

  53. #53 estraven
    August 25, 2008

    I never drink enough to match my colleagues, and at times I didn’t drink at all. I have a weak liver, so if I’m in a bad period I skip alcohol and as much saturated fat as I can.

    And, please do not assume that they meant to be nasty: assume this was short for “and of course you can drink whatever you like, which for me happens to be beer”. I have no experience of alcoholism in my family of moderate drinkers, and I wouldn’t have seen as a problem such a request.

    @Physioprof: I have been regularly taking part in the midconference hike, even when visibly pregnant: however, I did skip the smoke-filled whisky bar. And I took a generous maternity leave. After having gotten tenure :-).

    @neurowoman: I’m married to a colleague, so everybody knows the answer to the first part. I did hide a pregnancy at an interview, and I would have answered diplomatically (=none of your business, but polite and smiling) to an explicit question.

  54. #54 Jenny F. Scientist
    August 25, 2008

    You can always tell them you’re a Baptist. If they ask. And just have a lemonade. Look, they’re probably a bunch of good ol’ boys, and they’re trying to be friendly in their best good ol’ boy fashion. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it- that will weird them out. Calmly asking for a non-alcoholic beverage isn’t a big deal, and you can still socialize with your possibly-future colleagues without giving the impression that you’re an uptight teetotaler or (to the women) that they have to cave to expectations. Besides, it’s the South. Polite brush-offs are a regular order of business. “Now, now, don’t you know never to ask a lady that?” will quash almost any impertinent question.

  55. #55 Bonnie
    August 25, 2008

    You’ve already figured it out. Follow Andrea M’s advice. Take advantage of the situation! You’ll have the upper hand. Then, if you are offered and accept the job, you can work to (gradually) change things for the better. Best of luck with whatever you decide!

  56. #56 Amber C-F
    August 25, 2008

    I have to say…

    I am a first year Ph.D. student at a southern university, and I just completed my undergraduate education at another southern university.

    I am female, and never drink more than one beer. Yet drinking is how they socialize. It just is. It isn’t a male or female thing. It isn’t even so much about the alcohol. Half the professors at my previous university didn’t drink, yet they all wound up at the local pub after work.

    Heck, my undergraduate psychology club met at the school, but we all went down for a “mixer” at a local resturaunt/brewery every month, although only a third of us were over 21.

    My graduate interview included drinks at a bar with faculty members, and drinking beer with my future adviser.

    I am not really justifying it, and it probably is a kickback from the “good ol’ days”, but I would be careful assuming this is a sign about the department. In my experience, this is just a “Southern Thing”.

  57. #57 Dawn
    August 25, 2008

    Um, Amber C-F… I think you should try going to university elsewhere…in the north…in another country even…before drawing conclusions abut drinking in academia being a ‘southern thing.’

  58. #58 Anna K.
    August 25, 2008

    The worst that could happen is that you have a lousy evening and realize the place isn’t for you; the best that could happen is that you are pleasantly surprised by how interesting and convivial these folks are.

    Assume the best intentions on their parts, don’t misrepresent yourself by pretending to be a drinker when you’re not, and look at it as an opportunity to get to know some interesting people. Even if the place isn’t for you, you still might make some good connections with other researchers.

    Re a comment above — I have also noticed field biologists hanging around drinking beer — I knew several (including several women) when we lived in Alaska. And they had great stories, as well.

    What the hey: go with an open-minded good will, and see what it’s all about. If you go assuming the best about others and showing your own integrity, you’ll know that you gave it a fair and honest chance. Whatever else happens, you can be at peace about your own behavior.

    Best of luck in your job search! I hope my daughter grows up to be a scientist . . . πŸ™‚

  59. #59 Mike
    August 25, 2008

    This is not just a southern thing. I am an assistant professor at an R1 in a Northern state. Alcohol paid for by the department is a fixture at many gatherings throughout the year. Frequently these gatherings occur outside in a courtyard or parking lot. Our department is about evenly split between genders.

    it seems that the letter writer has a preconceived notion of southerners and is using the interview schedule as a way of reinforcing her bigotry

  60. #60 Julie R
    August 25, 2008

    I did my PhD at a large Southern land-grant, sea-grant school where beer and other alcoholic beverages were a normal part of every gathering (my advisor got quite drunk doing jello shots at one party even). I don’t drink and it was never an issue at all. I doubt anyone will be offended if you respond with a polite “no thank you” when you are offered a beer or other beverage.

  61. #61 Are
    August 25, 2008

    Thanks all. I’m seeing the same views my friends are saying.

    PP – I read your comments and blogs regularly as well as FSPs and others. I’m also a separation of “church and state, work and play, profs and students” type. I never once went to a meeting or “hung out” with my PhD advisor. He’s not a party guy. I’m a work work work type that does just fine in my field by publishing good papers and maintaining professional attitude. I’ve seen some women colleagues in my field get accused and thrown under buses for “acting inappropriately” (not with beer) yet for some men, similar events get swept under the rug. I will never be the type of advisor who hangs out with the students – lab parties, sure – I’ll order pizza for grants and awards. But happy hour during working hours with students, staff, and faculty just really irks me. I instantly had the “are you ******* kidding me?” reaction when I saw the schedule. My friends say it’s “normal” for the south. This interview is about my career! Not some “hey, we have a visitor speaker.” Socially awkward situations for geeky women like me may be socially empowering events for geeky men. And men are doing the hiring.

    My point isn’t to make them uncomfortable. I’m the uncomfortable one trying to navigate this. And like I said, I’m not sure if they do this for everyone who talks for a job or a dept seminar. I take it that this is supposed to loosen me up – ain’t possible. I don’t loosen up when my career is at stake.

    Another point I’ll make – I would use a certain type of facility at another location (not far). I talked about this work ad nauseum in my application packet. A visit to this facility could have been put in place of happy hour(s). I did call the search chair to ask about this possibility – he said to invite THOSE people to the happy hour!? So, I asked someone from the facility (a colleague I have never met but is being very kind to me and knows my work, and I owe him big time) to help me work it in my schedule – he is going to pick me up at a ridiculously early hour to drive me to the facility so I can check it out and then he will drive me back in time for my first on-campus meeting. This whole interview “schedule” is very odd to me. Even the chunks of time for meetings are odd. It just seems that they left ME off MY schedule.

    Don – LOVE IT! I want that on a shirt – I can bust it open like superman under the silk blouse πŸ™‚

    Neurowoman – and for the ladies who get asked “are you married/do you have kids?” – repeat after me:
    1) I’m the only person you need to impress on this interview, don’t YOU worry about that (say it with a smile in an “awwww shucks thanks for being so concerned” June Cleaver way)
    if they press you (or ask AGAIN!), say
    2) Now you know better than to jeopardize a job search with illegal questions – I wouldn’t want YOU to get in trouble.
    3) Thanks for asking/reminding me. I will be sure to talk about those issues with Human Resources during my time with them.

    I also don’t wear rings or jewelry, so they are left wondering. I have unmarried friends who wear band rings and engagement rings to play the game (like I would be doing if I grabbed a beer to feed the hedges with – I don’t feel comfortable at all “baiting and switching” and I’m sort of depressed to even be thinking about that).

    I’m leaning toward the “no thanks” and I’ll ask for some “sweet tea.” If pressed (and I will take note of how many people/times I get asked just to report back to you folks), I will say I have allergies. Dinner with the faculty will be later that night, so I can whip out a few snacks to keep my hands occupied. And yes, I’ll be plugging people for info and hopefully, I can convince some of the females to show up to talk with me.

    Thanks all – I’ll do my best.
    I hope the font don’t get wonky on me.

  62. #62 Tex
    August 25, 2008

    btw- how do you answer the “married/kids” questions? I am still trying to figure out that one myself…

    You should ignore this question, as (1) it has no bearing on your ability to do the job and (2) it is illegal in the US to even ask such a question as part of the interview process. Surely, anyone on the search committee would know this. If they don’t, you are interviewing at the wrong place.

    The only time your marital/parental relations would matter is if you have a two-body problem where you need to find a suitable academic position for your partner. This revelation can certainly wait until you have been offered the position.

  63. #63 Alice
    August 25, 2008

    Wowza, what a response! Keep ’em coming if you’re so inclined. But if you’re looking to comment on the “what do you do if you’re asked if you’re married on a job interview,” I’ve written a new post to collect those ideas. See it here:

    I also think it is interesting the number of people who “don’t think this is a big deal” and that Are should just “relax, take it in the spirit it was intended.” I think many women may be judged under different lights than many men, and women drinking on job interviews “with the guys” also interpreted differently. Both men and women may disagree with me from their experiences; I can hope I’m wrong. However, it doesn’t seem like too many people are addressing this gendered aspect in their comments. Thoughts?

  64. #64 Carrie
    August 25, 2008

    I am not troubled by the ‘social event’ as part of the job interview. As many others have pointed out, many departments have Friday gatherings where alcohol is involved as a way to meet people outside of the office in an informal setting. And it’s nice to ‘interview’ someone in that setting as well — and you can get a feel for the work environment if you’re interviewing.

    I am very troubled, however, by the phrasing of the event. “Knocking some back with the guys” has a completely different connotation (maybe from a woman’s perspective?) than a “join our social event to meet some others in the department” request. A) it implies she needs to be one of ‘the guys’ and b) is just doesn’t seem professional.

  65. #65 CC
    August 25, 2008

    I think many women may be judged under different lights than many men, and women drinking on job interviews “with the guys” also interpreted differently…However, it doesn’t seem like too many people are addressing this gendered aspect in their comments. Thoughts?

    People aren’t “addressing this gendered aspect” because the whole “drinking on job interviews ‘with the guys'” thing is preposterous. She’s not being challenged to a game of Beirut; they’re going to have what any reasonable scientist recognizes as a routine social hour. This whole story is a complete non-issue.

    Unless you hold your alcohol extremely well, I’d advise not touching any during interviews, whether you’re male or female. No one is ever going to think any less of you for it unless you’re pledging a fraternity.

  66. #66 eddie
    August 25, 2008

    Could you clear up some confusion?
    The married/kids thing is definitely not an appropriate question at an interview, but it’s standard conversation at social (getting to know you) gatherings. That could be more problematic than the alcohol thing where a rimple ‘soft drink, please’ will work.

  67. #67 Tex
    August 25, 2008

    Could you clear up some confusion?
    The married/kids thing is definitely not an appropriate question at an interview, but it’s standard conversation at social (getting to know you) gatherings.

    If the candidate is there and she has not been hired yet, the social event is part of the interview process. Personal questions about her (or his) marital/parental status are just as inappropriate (and irrelevant) as questions about her religous preference. If the candidate volunteers information in this area, fine. If not, you would be well advised to leave it alone. In fact, I am sure your HR and legal departments would insist on it.

  68. #68 Lab Lemming
    August 25, 2008

    Not much to add, really, repearting what people said above: don’t fake, don’t worry, and don’t prejudge. Asking if they have cokes ahead of time wouldn’t hurt, but shouldn’t be necessary.

  69. #69 Alex
    August 25, 2008

    First, I think the interviewee is probably reading a bit too much into this. Most of the interviews that I went on had some sort of informal social gathering in the schedule, and the department chair may just given a rather offhand and ill-chosen description for an event that is in fact quite harmless. In all likelihood, nobody will care if you don’t drink. I never drink, and in every instance where I was (directly or indirectly) offered alcohol I simply said “Oh, just a diet Coke, thanks!” and that was that. Moreover, the informal gatherings I’ve been to in interviews tended to be a place for general chat about science and academic work, comparing notes on people you know in the profession, that sort of thing. There wasn’t much “So, if we hire you, you’ll be hunting with us, right?” aspect to it.

    That said, I don’t fault the job-seeker for over-analyzing the situation: Over-analyzing is what we all do when go into high-stakes/high-stress interviews.

    Anyway, it may be that I’m wrong, and that this part of the interview will be more intimidating than I predict. If you come out of it with the wrong feeling on how the social gathering went, then by all means (1) don’t take a job offer and (2) make a discrete mention of it with the campus HR office.

  70. #70 Alice
    August 25, 2008

    CC — having this kind of drinking-focused event (beer in the back parking lot) as part of an interview is *not* routine, even if other alcohol-related events could be (wine and cheeses, dinner with wine or beer, etc.), and even if it may be part of the routine social life of the department. But I think Are is clear that this event is being put on specially for her, and is not just opportunistically taking advantage of an existing social event.

    Folks, the thing is that, while you may find social drinking as an acceptable activity, you cannot and should not presume that your interview candidate will also. And good intentions on making someone feel welcome in a way which you might consider acceptable but which may be experienced differently by diverse individuals is not enough of a reason to still do it.

    Making a hiring decision based on how people interact at social events is certainly not scientifically-justified, not based on trying to assess who the “best candidate” might be, and seems to me simply to be a recipe for hiring people who are “like you.”

  71. #71 Jim Thomerson
    August 25, 2008

    On considering my advice about giving your family background, I was mistaken. I strongly believe in not telling people things they don’t need to know. They should understand that you do not drink alcohol, but why is, in fact, none of their business.

  72. #72 Barn Owl
    August 25, 2008

    I’m also a separation of “church and state, work and play, profs and students” type. I never once went to a meeting or “hung out” with my PhD advisor. He’s not a party guy. I’m a work work work type that does just fine in my field by publishing good papers and maintaining professional attitude.

    From what you’ve written about yourself, you seem better suited for a position at an elite top tier university or research institute. Why, then, would you consider slummin’ (in an intellectual sense) with the southerners, especially those who don’t, in your estimation, appear to be as committed to science and professional behavior as you are? From their perspective, a more collegial applicant would be a better fit, in terms of research collaborations, team teaching, committee work, journal clubs, and mentoring grad students or postdocs.

    If a dept of 95% women threw a tea party or a scrapbooking sale during an interview, a man interviewee would flip.

    If we want to discuss the “gendered aspect” and ridiculous stereotypes, perhaps this would be a good place to start.

  73. #73 Alex
    August 25, 2008

    I think we need to cut Are some slack. Although I do think she is worrying too much about this, job hunting is stressful. I certainly over-analyzed too many things, spent too much time reading rumor mills, and paid too much attention too gossip. I suspect that it won’t be as bad as she fears. If I’m wrong, then she’ll know not to accept a job there. If I’m right, then she may find a nice opportunity at a school with a lot to offer.

  74. #74 Andrea M
    August 26, 2008

    Making a hiring decision based on how people interact at social events is certainly not scientifically-justified

    I think that is not completely true.

    Hiring someone who is “like you” is certainly a narrow-minded thing to do. But assessing a candidate’s social skills is a must: I have been in a lab with a wunderkind Nobel-prize-level social inept once, and I can testify that his inability to relate in a professional way with the others impacted seriously on lab life. Also, I have seen a friend’s labs split in two rival factions due to personal conflicts. They got to the point where they mislabeled things intentionally for fear that the other part might use them.

    In a group, especially if small, conflicts are apt to arise (who left the gel-running bench dirty? who forgot to reorder the common restriction enzyme when it ran out? etc.). People with no social skills and/or complete assholes can take a toll on the atmosphere and the productivity of the lab.

    I am not implying that everyone should fit in and the lab should be a community of personal life friends. Quite the opposite. But checking out that the candidate is not personally incompatible with the lab life can help a lot in the long run.

  75. #75 Ace
    August 26, 2008

    One thought I had was that perhaps that e-mail was written by a person who did not see how the way it was phrased put the emphasis on the drinking rather than the “informal gathering” aspect and it is not the view of the whole department?

    If this was on my interview schedule, I’d think it was weird (or weirdly worded, see above). I’d go and have a beer and try to watch and figure out what I think of the place, how I feel with these people and so on. You can do the same without the beer. Keep in mind your real goal: to get the job offer and to decide whether you would accept the offer. That’s the goal here.

    If the dept is going to make hiring decisions based on who can drink with the boys, there’s a serious problem there. At the very least, this is not a place you’d want to work. But I’d be positive about things until you actually see for yourself. As I mentioned, it might just be someone clueless who wrote the e-mail and not indicative of an exclusive environment.

    Oh and when someone asks what you’d like to drink, a simple “Dr Pepper” is my recommendation.

    Good luck!

  76. #76 Ace
    August 26, 2008

    I realised I did not address the “gender issue”. I am all for being aware of subtle forms of exclusion but I think this one is very very grey… Also, I don’t think to reinforce stereotypes that men like to throw back a few and women like scrapbooking and tea parties is really going to get us anywhere.

    There are a number of things I would not want to have as part of my job interview and some of these would be stereotypically “masculine” things (e.g. video game tournament) some would be “feminine” (knitting party?). If someone put such things on my interview schedule, I’d think “oh damn! why can’t we just shoot back a few beers in the back alley”. But I’d go to the video game or knitting thing and try to have good faith that this is the way this department has an informal gathering for the faculty. Then I’d try and see if I am the focus or whether the Wii/yarn is more interesting to this group of people…

  77. #77 CC
    August 26, 2008

    CC — having this kind of drinking-focused event (beer in the back parking lot) as part of an interview is *not* routine, even if other alcohol-related events could be (wine and cheeses, dinner with wine or beer, etc.)

    Putting aside that I didn’t say it’s routine in interviews (although I did get one at an interview in Texas), this is a revealing comment, no? Wine and cheese is a perfectly uncontroversial intellectual activity, but beer and pretzels are “drinking-focused”, “gendered” and “neanderthal”?

    In fact, at the western university where I did my PhD, beer and pretzels (from Trader Joe’s, obviously — we’re intellectuals too!) were the norm. When I postdoc’d at a more pompous northeastern school, it took some adjustment to the (Trader Joe’s, still) wine and cheese events there. The case for wine and cheese leading to discrimination by class, religion and race is at least as strong as anything you could make for beer and pretzels.

    So, are you now chastened and vowing to eliminate your department’s wine and cheese parties? Or do department culture and a little petty enjoyment in scientists’ otherwise grueling lives have some intrinsic value that doesn’t just get instantly trumped because some stressed-out applicant freaks? Would you tell the freaked-out applicant that your wine and cheese reception is “a doozy of a problem” or that she should relax, grab a Coke and socialize?

    Incidentally, and perhaps your correspondent could clarify this: is her “and I quote” a verbatim quote from a written document, a supposedly verbatim quote from a conversation, or a paraphrase? People are putting a lot of weight on those precise words (which, if accurate, do deserve a stern lecture from HR) but it’s not obvious to me that anyone actually said or wrote “have a few beers, shoot the breeze, throw a few back”.

  78. #78 Alice
    August 26, 2008

    CC – To clarify as per your latter comment, the “and I quote” portion was a quote from Are’s original email, and a quote *in* her original email too. In other words, she said that the search chair had told her “(and I quote my phone conversation with the search chair) ‘have a few beers, shoot the breeze, throw a few back’ in the tailgate area behind the … building.” Hope this clarifies that.

    My department doesn’t have wine and cheese regular events. Nor does my university, as far as I can tell. Perhaps I could also add in tailgates at sporting events might be included, should an academic interview include a sporting event. I could also include, at my UW-Madison alma mater, “beers on the Terrace,” as the Terrace at the UW Memorial Union is a major attraction of the university, and ice cream is also a completely traditional alternative to beer. It doesn’t have to be a “wine and cheese,” I only included that as I did have that as part of one of my interviews. “Beer in the parking lot” is what I am calling a drinking-focused activity, although I admit perhaps the parking lot is lovely, with little shaded areas in which to sit, good people watching, next to the lake… but I doubt it. And you’re calling it neanderthal, not me.

    …they’re going to have what any reasonable scientist recognizes as a routine social hour.

    The event Are describes is not a routine event in the department. It is a specially-organized event. Having a “beer in the parking lot” event specially-organized as part of an interview is not routine.

    I still think roles at tailgating events can be considered gendered. But I’ll let the folks who write for Gender & Society overrule me with their research. And indeed, wine and cheeses can be construed as classed. Anything with alcohol can be construed as being a problem for people of different religions. I think it’s better to leave them out of the interview altogether, and to develop departmental rituals and traditions that welcome non-drinkers.

  79. #79 Alex
    August 26, 2008


    Many social activities have some component that could be considered gendered or classed. An after hours reception with cheese but (non-alcoholic) Martinelli’s in place of wine could be construed as classed. An after hours reception with chips and non-alcoholic drinks at a campus athletic venue with nice scenery contains some embedded cultural assumptions. If the candidate has pizza with the students (meetings and lunches with students and no faculty were components in 2 of my interviews) there are implicit issues of power relationships between students and a prospective professor, and possibly gender issues depending on the composition and dynamics of the student group.

    Finally, while there are potential issues in any social setting, Are is bringing a lot of assumptions to this, including some perceptions of southerners that may or may not be correct (perceptions that female posters from the south have questioned on this thread). These assumptions are probably just ramping up her anxiety, and she’d be able to relax more if she stepped back from her assumptions about people she hasn’t met. Job interviews are stressful enough without psyching oneself out with stereotypes about the interviewers. And you yourself seem to regard wine and cheese as being completely different from an outdoor happy hour with beer. Are you bringing your own regional and class biases to this?

    P.S. I’m a non-drinking white Catholic male of vaguely liberal persuasion raised in the North and working on the West Coast. Definitely not a “good old boy who throws a few back”, but I’m willing to consider the possibility that these people from a different cultural background may be good and harmless people whom I can interact with in a social setting.

  80. #80 Alice
    August 26, 2008

    Alex, CC, and all – I am undoubtedly bringing my own classed, raced, gendered, regional biases to this discussion. As do I to all discussions. As do we all. And yes, all kinds of interactions can be considered gendered, raced, classed and so on because those are major ways that we (very inclusive here) organize society. The individual chats as part of the interview are also classed. The presentations can be seen as gendered and raced. The whole thing is embedded in social (I don’t mean casual, I mean “of people”) systems where the actors have gender, race, and class. I will be thrilled if, at the end of this thread, readers start seeing those characteristics everywhere.

  81. #81 allergies
    August 26, 2008

    I just wanted to warn that the allergy approach is a BAD one! as someone who has had to deal with multiple food allergies, I am always shocked when people bring them up lightly. they are very serious and not something to be faked to avoid siimple telling people that you don’t want to drink. you can simply say “alcohol doesn’t agree with me” and leave it at that. I am not a big drinker and use that line often.
    if you say you have an allergy, then you’ll likely have to answer follow up questions about what you are allergic to. If you say wheat or gluten as another poster suggested, then you will look like an idiot since you will likely have been consuming it with every other meal. you can’t be allergic to alcohol itself (not a protein) and if you end up talking to someone who actually knows a few things about allergies, you are likely to make a very bad and uninformed impression of yourself.

    I think you should just ask for a bit more info on the event and request that some non-alcoholic beverages be provided. show them that you can relax and have a good time without drinking. This is a chance for them to see you in a more relaxed setting, not to see how you hold your booze. If people offer, say no thanks. if they press, say it doesn’t agree with you, and you are already pretty tired and not feeling 100% with all the travel and stress (which will likely be the truth).

  82. #82 Zuska
    August 26, 2008

    I can’t believe all the knuckleheads saying it’s no big deal, what’s all the worry about. Of course it’s a big deal. It’s an interview, and it’s a booze party. The two should not be mixed. Interviews are formal professional events. Booze parties are not. Taking the candidate out to dinner is as informal as the interview should get.

    Don’t fake drinking. Don’t lie about allergies. Don’t spill your guts about family history. Do say “I don’t drink, thank you.” Or “I’m not drinking alcohol right now, it mixes poorly with a medication I’m taking.” if you don’t feel up to just declaring you don’t drink. If asked what medication, reply “why do you ask?” if you get “oh, I was just wondering/just curious” reply “thanks for your interest” and change the subject.

    Many, many people these days are more open about not drinking, as it becomes less shameful to talk about alcoholism, as we recognize it as a disease, but there is still a lot of stigma around it, and a lot of social pressure to drink. So it can be hard to say “I don’t drink”. I hope this department doesn’t turn out to be a pressure-to-drink one but if it does, you will have learned you don’t want to be there. Good luck.

  83. #83 Samia
    August 26, 2008

    Does anyone else think this assumption (that everyone is comfortable drinking or being around bars) is kind of culturally insensitive? I grew up in a Southeast Asian Muslim household. Alcohol = Something We Didn’t Do. Though I’m no longer Muslim, I still don’t drink more than three or four times a year and I’m not at all comfortable being around tipsy people I don’t know too well, especially if they’re male. So Are’s predicament irks me. I guess I would play along in her position, but there’s no way in hell I’d be at all “relaxed.” It’s an interview– who needs the added stress? If this “informal setting” was a restaurant or cookout where drinking is optional, that’d be one thing, but a bar? Strange.

  84. #84 Alex
    August 26, 2008


    There’s no need to say anything about medications or anything. On every interview I’ve been at, when offered a drink I was able to say “No thanks, could I just have a diet Coke?” and that was usually enough. If pressed, just say “Well, I don’t really drink, personal reasons.” If pressed further, you know for sure that you don’t want to work with these people.

    One thing, though: If they pursue the matter, it’s not necessarily them trying to impose cultural norms on you. It could be that they want to make sure you know it’s OK, that they won’t judge you if you have a drink during a social hour, and that the offer of a drink is merely a way of being friendly in a social setting rather than a trick question where “no” is the intended answer. That permission to drink is not intended as pressure, and if the goal is for everyone to be sensitive to everyone else’s assumptions, then a good way to get along is to recognize their good intentions.

    Sensitivity is a two way street. Yes, interviewers should be gracious and avoid creating uncomfortable situations, but interviewees should also recognize that local social customs are generally (no, not always) offered in a spirit of friendliness, not as a minefield or way to weed out people.

    There’s an argument to be made against having alcohol as a component of official university social activities, and maybe it’s a good one. But as long as upper-class activities such as the wine and cheese social are accepted as a part of academic life, a spirit of acceptance across class lines suggests that we should also accept a more relaxed social hour that features beer instead of wine and an outdoor setting instead of a quaint gallery room or something. The merits or demerits of alcohol should be considered across the board, rather than giving alcohol a free pass in upper class settings while looking down on more informal social activities that feature alcohol.

  85. #85 Are
    August 26, 2008

    On my interview schedule it says “tailgate reception.” I emailed search chair to ask if I could switch that event out with a visit to the facility I would be using as part of my research. He emailed me back saying that the event was to “have a few beers and shoot the breeze” with the dept folks (students, staff, and faculty). I then called him and asked if I could stick a visit into the research facility at another spot… he said “invite those folks to throw a few back with us at the tailgate.” I asked if there was a football game???!! uh, no. So, yes, the department is throwing ME a party.

    Anytime I see 95% white male in a dept, I wonder why. Is it because women are running away screaming (or not making tenure), is it because of their hiring practices, is it because there’s not alot of women in this field? I can tell you that the dept is 50% female – so women in the field isn’t the reason. It’s either the 1st or 2nd. Like a commenter said above, maybe they are trying to keep Yankee women out…. may be? But why didn’t they weed me out with my CV. Because I fit the job description. The rest is “fitting the dept.”

    I am NOT AT ALL opposed to faculty gatherings with alcohol (wine and cheese or beer and pretzels) outside of working hours among the faculty. This event for ME is during the day. AND will involve students. As perception goes (and especially in a 95% white male env), women have to work 100% harder to be seen as competent. There’s already an element of “she doesn’t fit” when women are the minority (preaching to the choir). I wish I had a nickel for every time some idiot male said “she doesn’t know what she’s doing” about me to then have to eat crow because AH HA, yes I do. If I could whip out my pages of pubs on the drop of a hat, and force feed them my top tier papers, I would. It’s an uphill battle. ALL THE TIME.

    Being a woman with ANY amount of alcohol in hand gives anyone (student, staff, faculty) the leverage to claim “she was drunk.” Even if it’s not true. The people watching are 95% male faculty and 50% male students in this case. Like I said, I know women thrown under buses because of untrue claims. Imagine if the “drunk jello-shot prof” from one of the commenters above had been a woman. Imagine if it was 1 jello-shot and a woman. The unwritten rules of tenure and hiring could be applied to discriminate against her in any context from any event. It’s about perception and drunk MEN are seen as cool in some envs… women are not. Yes, I’ve been around drunk profs during working hours – I could write a post on that (Alice??)! And being in the minority (especially under 10%) is a big problem – it’s a sign that women are already marginalized in that dept.

    I totally agree with Andrea about judging social competence and friendliness, but adding alcohol to the mix may help socially inept people for the tailgate, but what about the 99% of the time (without alcohol) spent teaching, being a mentor, being an adviser, writing proposals? Socially inept jerks get hired ALL THE TIME. You can read all about PIs from hell on any number of blogs. Women at a beer tailgate (student, staff, faculty) are really riding a dangerous wave in my mind. It’s not about ‘let have fun and relax’ – it’s an interview or a career for christ sake.

    And to take gender out of the mix, let’s pretend I am a Muslim. How comfortable would a non-drinker Muslim (male or female) be at a tailgate? I think not very. This goes back to the turtlenecking comments on FSP. It’s about fit. Fitting in to what’s there (in my case 95% white male). Every piece of “hiring diversity” literature I have read (and oh boy, I have read like 100 in this month) talks about search committees tailoring interview schedules to meet the candidates’ needs. When depts (like apparently the one I am interviewing at) do a blanket approach which works for THEM, they hire the same thing…. white male. White male identifies most with white male (THEM). duh.

    So, here I am… female. Going to a 95% male dept to interview. I could have written the job description myself. It’s a job that would be great for my research area – and the possibilities of collaborating outside the dept are high (within the dept, not so much – it’s a new field and will take some time getting people on board). Do I wear a turtleneck for a job interview?

    I do have a few jokes lined up for the umpteen times I get asked “hey, wanna beer?”…. I will ask if there are souvenir lampshades to take home? Or if job candidates get to keep the labels for office wallpaper? Of if we get to make our own paper hats and wrist balloons for being the guest of honor?

    And I have another idea to show that I’m fun and social and cool – my work is literally death-defying at times. These people cannot judge my social (or stress) abilities with beer – it may be how they want to be judged themselves or how they know how to judge (other white males). So, I will baby spoon feed them “who I am.” I do things that I don’t play up and in this case, I think my adventures would floor them. I’m sure they wondered about research logistics on my CV (especially me being a woman and all). This is my way of changing THEIR idea of fit. Instead of wondering why I don’t fit (she’s doesn’t drink, she comes from the north, she’s not white male), I need to try to give them “pros” for what I do bring. As a friend says “white males like diversity in beer, you need to convince them that diversity in the workplace ain’t bad either – we all don’t drink Bud Light and thank god beer stores ain’t stocked to the ceiling with Bud Light, we’d die.” I think not wearing a turtleneck is my best game plan.

    Like I said, I asked Alice to post my scenario so I could see how others view this situation – and I got exactly the same range of responses from you all (y’all) as I did my friends. From “OMG don’t go” “WTF are they thinking” “play the game, grab a beer and dump it out” to “don’t play their stupid game, tell them you don’t drink” to “talk to the chair” to “you are overreacting.” Yes, I’m ANALytical and I’m really fighting to see through all the viewpoints here because I’m sure they are the same ones in the dept.

    For me personally, I choose to fight smarter than fight harder. I don’t want THEIR unconscious or conscious “criteria of fit” to narrow ME out, and we women have to come up with ways to do this when we are the minority by a long shot. I sincerely thank you all for sharing your thoughts on this post. After I get back, decompress, and think about everything, I’ll post a followup on the interview in general and especially the partyyy. Many Thanks, Are

  86. #86 Samia
    August 26, 2008

    It could be that they want to make sure you know it’s OK, that they won’t judge you if you have a drink during a social hour, and that the offer of a drink is merely a way of being friendly in a social setting rather than a trick question where “no” is the intended answer.

    Make sure you “know it’s okay?” Maybe some people are really paranoid and have a problem believing it’s okay to drink if someone personally invites you. That’s not what I was touching on.

    Sensitivity is a two way street. Yes, interviewers should be gracious and avoid creating uncomfortable situations, but interviewees should also recognize that local social customs are generally (no, not always) offered in a spirit of friendliness, not as a minefield or way to weed out people.

    So basically the interviewers don’t *really* have to avoid creating potentially uncomfortable situations because they don’t intend any harm by their ignorance. Does it matter what their intentions are if the end result is someone being uncomfortable for a reason that has nothing to do with the position they are interviewing for? There are plenty of people who don’t drink or believe getting drunk is sinful/undesirable/unseemly. I don’t see how it’s a big deal to avoid this by changing the setting.

    I’m from an academic family and all the get-togethers we set up and participate in are pretty laid-back. We mostly do potlucks, picnics, barbeques, that sort of stuff. Basically food-based fun. πŸ™‚ No alcohol, because no one wants to make assumptions about beliefs and/or possible children showing up at our functions. I’ve lived in the South for a good long while now and honestly don’t get how going out to a bar with interviewers is professional or acceptable. “Cultural norm” for people going out with friends, maybe.

    If imbibing alcohol is the custom, then change venues and do dinner or lunch where it’s less awkward for non-drinkers.

  87. #87 Alex
    August 26, 2008


    You are going into this interview with a lot of interpretations and projections of bad outcomes. That is a recipe for disaster. You don’t want them making unwarranted assumptions about you, so don’t make unwarranted assumptions about them. In your mind, treat it like any other informal gathering of scientists, and act accordingly–and simply smile and ask for a tea or whatever when they ask what you’re having. You’ll come across as relaxed and able to talk to people about your research in an informal setting. It sounds like you have a lot of great things to say about your research, and probably some great research stories to tell. Pretend you’re at a conference in a social hour, and you’ll come across fine.

    How will the department come across? Maybe as badly as you fear. Maybe far better than you think. You don’t know, and if you psych yourself out about this and develop too many assumptions about them, you’ll be miserable. Come in with an open mind, talk science informally, and you’ll come across as a great person, while gaining the perspective that you need to evaluate them and make a decision about the job. If you want them to have an open mind about you, extend them the same courtesy. If they’re as bad as you fear, well, you know what to do. But if they’re better than you think, and you approach them with an open mind, it could be a really great experience.

    As to why they didn’t work a visit to that facility into your schedule? I don’t know. They may have been reluctant to work in anything that involves driving in the middle of the day (even short drives) in order to leave room in the schedule for last minute changes. My interviews had a lot of last minute changes, with different faculty and administrators having to reshuffle meetings with me. Don’t interpret it as insensitivity to your needs. Keep in mind that they said you could invite colleagues from this facility to their social hour. It may not be a formal wine and cheese social, but it is their idea of a departmental social, and they were willing to let you invite off-campus colleagues to this event. Take that opportunity!

    Invite colleagues from an off campus research facility, and at the social event introduce your off-campus colleagues to prospective departmental colleagues and start talking about the collaborative opportunities if you go to that university. Your prospective department chair should be impressed that you are already lining up connections and projects and you’re able to hit the ground running.

    Are there elements to this event that could work against you? Yes. But there are opportunities, and there are factors that may work out far better than you anticipate. So make the most of it.

    And most importantly, relax. You’ve been on the job market, and you’ve even gotten offers, from what you write above. You have a track record of doing well enough in interviews. You can handle this, especially if you’re bringing in potential collaborators and showing that you have the ability to line up projects and connections.

  88. #88 Alex
    August 26, 2008


    A department should be sensitive and avoid creating uncomfortable situations, but an interviewee should also be sensitive to local customs and recognize when a gesture is offered out of sincere goodwill. It’s a 2-way street.

  89. #89 Tomas
    August 26, 2008

    And I have another idea to show that I’m fun and social and cool – my work is literally death-defying at times. These people cannot judge my social (or stress) abilities with beer – it may be how they want to be judged themselves or how they know how to judge (other white males). So, I will baby spoon feed them “who I am.” I do things that I don’t play up and in this case, I think my adventures would floor them. I’m sure they wondered about research logistics on my CV (especially me being a woman and all). This is my way of changing THEIR idea of fit. Instead of wondering why I don’t fit (she’s doesn’t drink, she comes from the north, she’s not white male), I need to try to give them “pros” for what I do bring.
    I think this is the way to go.

  90. #90 Samia
    August 26, 2008

    Oh, I agree. It’s just that drinking at an interview some kind of revered social custom does not mesh with my (or my parents’) experiences at all. I’m guessing these interviewers aren’t used to having to think about cultural/religious customs of people very different from themselves, though.

  91. #91 KWK
    August 26, 2008

    I’d like to point out that, somewhere in the middle of the comment thread, the message being discussed transformed from “throwing a few back” with members of the department (most of whom are male) to “throwing a few back with the boys”. The explicit gendering of the activity was done by Are and others attempting to read between the lines (accurately or not, I cannot say), it was *not* done by representatives of the hiring institution. So I would echo what many others are arguing for: at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Did the Chair use awkward, colloquial phrasing in his verbal (and therefore more likely to be off-the-cuff) communication? Absolutely. But was this communication laden with double-super-secret code words indicating that that “only good-old-boys need apply”? I seriously doubt it.
    In any case, whether Are takes the job or not, I think it would be helpful to the Chair and/or the hiring committee for her to let them know (perhaps after the decision is made) the stress that less-than-professional communication can provoke in candidates. You may save future candidates the same headache that a few uncautious words caused you.

    Incidentally, I can empathize with Are on at least some level. Last year I interviewed for a position at a historically black university. I’m white, and so I was particularly angst-y about a whole host of racial/ethnic issues and whether or not I’d “fit in”. It turns out that I experienced no uncomfortable moments and no awkward exchanges related to these issues during the interview process at all–the academic setting and the shared research and educational goals gave us plenty to focus on in our discussions. And though I didn’t end up taking that job, getting through an interview that was significantly outside my comfort zone (with all the additional stress that brought) was an extremely worthwhile experience, both personally and professionally.

  92. #92 Leni
    August 26, 2008

    Wait- is there some unspoken rule about how we’re supposed to be “comfortable” at job interviews?

    I find them grueling and terrifying and not at all comfortable. So much so that I’m finding myself trapped in a job I hate because I fear The Interview that much. Since when is this activity supposed to pleasant?

    Zuska, I think calling the responders here “knuckleheads” is uncalled for. (At the very least, if you meant someone specific you should have quoted them.) Are got a lot of good advice (Great idea for the networking, Andrea M!) and she seems like she’s in a better place to deal with being outside of her “comfort zone” (another great point!).

    Most of us told her flat out not to lie and encouraged her not to indulge silly stereotypes about southerners. That’s not exactly “knucklehead” material. Overall, I think the tone has been pretty sympathetic, pleasant and encouraging.


    That said, Are, if you end up taking the job, I’d wager that suggesting a better phrase than “throwing a few back” to the guy who sent the email might be helpful for him (and future applicants). He probably just doesn’t know how bad/scary that sounds to some people, and my bet is that he wouldn’t use it again if he did.

    Anyway, good luck on the interview, and on your continued search! I’m sure you’ll do great and that your fears of good ol’ boy, drunken, parking lot debauchery will turn out not to be realized. But if they are, please come back here and post all about it in excruciating detail πŸ™‚

  93. #93 decrepitoldfool
    August 26, 2008

    There are lots of reasons why you might not drink, and they’re nobody’s business from religion to family to non-compatible medication. I’ve learned that saying; “I don’t drink” (a statement of policy) invites unnecessary questions. Saying “I’m a nondrinker” (a statement of identity) leaves less room for comment.

    And the minute you ask for something non-alcoholic when alcohol is available, most people figure it out and just leave it at that.

  94. #94 Fred
    August 27, 2008

    You may be overreacting here. Some departments just want to add an informal part to the interview. It may just be one guys unfortunate way of phrasing things. When I was a grad student our department was hiring for a professor position and grad students were invited to an informal session with a candidate at the pub which was on campus. I didn’t drink and I don’t think anybody really kept track of or cared who had soda and who had beer.

    I do drink, but I would never, ever at an interview. And this informal session is still part of the interview. I am one of those women who after one beer gets red in the face and starts to find things too funny. So when I do drink it’s not very much and it’s certainly not around anyone from work.

    Don’t make excuses, don’t apologize, just say “Can I have a soda?”
    If anyone is rude enough to ask if you drink or not just reply
    “Not during a job interview.” or “Not tonight.” The fact that you don’t drink at all is to me, just too much personal information.

    This could give you some insight into these people. If they start getting too drunk, just leave. But seriously, if they have a rowdy
    kegger as part of the interview, they need to be reported to the head of the university. That is just too unprofessional. It is probably just an attempt to create a relaxed atmosphere. Which is absurd. Who is ever relaxed at an interview?

  95. #95 Female Engineering Professor
    August 27, 2008

    I still think a mountain is being made out of a molehill here, but I’m dying to know how the actual event goes. I hope Are gives us a postmortem.

    And I think informal social events are as useful to the interviewee and the interviewers as the formal talk. We only interview people we think are technically competent. What we’re trying to get out of the interview is a sense of whether or not this is someone we want to work with for the next 20+ years.

  96. #96 Nina
    August 27, 2008

    I don’t understand the worries of not drinking. I don’t drink, I never have, and I am proud to let people know. If someone offers me a drink I say “no thanks, I don’t drink” and often times it comes with questions but ends up causing others to try to cover their tails and say “oh well I don’t drink much either” which usually is a lie. I think it’s a fine thing not to drink and will not impact your chances at all. All my best friends are guys and when they have beers I just hang out to chat. I think it’s less worrisome that it may seem and you should embrace your non-drinking ways and realize no one will really care in the end. Good luck!

  97. #97 squawky
    August 27, 2008

    Interesting responses here, ranging from “it’s not a big deal” to “run away and don’t look back”.

    I’ve always been lucky and been with groups that don’t mind if there’s a non-drinker along – a good friend used to join our weekly grad student happy hours and just drink water. We had fun with it – “Get her a double water, on me!” – and appreciated the company. (And that’s from a bunch of geologists, too.)

    It’s harder with interviews – the department wants to feel social (or, at least, these guys want someone else to pay for the beers they’ll be “throwing back”) – but something this informal is hardly appropriate even if it’s some kind of weird department tradition.

    I hope the interview goes (went?) well — I think the non-drinkers above have some good suggestions. Let them know ahead of time that you don’t drink (beer or other), so please have some (favorite canned beverage here) in the cooler. IMHO, asking for an explanation is a bit rude, but if you want to give them one, I’d suggest the truth – fake excuses (allergies, etc.) may be found out, which ends up making you look bad later.

    Also, don’t forget to think about who these tailgating types are – are these the “should’ve retired years ago but we can’t get rid of” good ol’ boys, or are they the younger productive faculty? Every department seems to have some “deadwood” they put up with (and hope will retire soon), so you might find some allies elsewhere — and if not, then maybe this department has more problems than the job is worth.

  98. #98 drinker
    September 3, 2008

    wtf the way i see it they are giving you the fast track to the job all you have to do is chill and drink some beers? damn, tell them they better have enough beer and none of that domestic piss and while you are drinking them make sure to spit a few times. congratulations on your new job and you will have fun too. hell, i am having one now… cheers to you!!

  99. #99 Are
    September 6, 2008

    Hi All –
    Not much of an update….I had to back out of the interview because of Gustav. My research project focuses on the Gulf, so I rerouted to take care of logistics. I talked to the dept chair, the ticket is refundable and can be re-booked anytime, so he said we can reschedule later. The dept chair seems more professional than the search chair.

    Now with Ike rolling through, I’m gonna scream. It could be bad. When I talk to the dept chair next, I am going to go over exactly what I need from this interview time (meeting with my cronies in other depts and a visit to facilities I would use – no exceptions!). If they won’t accommodate me during MY interview, then I won’t rebook the trip at all. I spent alot of time thinking about this since canceling. There will be plenty of job ads coming out (I just found 2 to apply to).

    Squawky – I won’t ask for “double water”, 1 hurricane is enough. Stupid me for praying for rain.

  100. #100 Are
    September 9, 2008

    Hi everyone –
    I canceled the interview. The schedule is the same shit. Search chair again was not willing (and clearly stated that it is not his job) to accommodate a visit to other facilities (which are critical to my research). He pointed out that I do not have to attend the tailgate if I do not feel comfortable with alcohol being served to faculty, staff, and students. In his years of being on a search with female candidates and on A search with a woman chair, he has never heard of this concern before. Newsflash: women and minorities are not in a position to discuss any concerns among 90% majority. We are lucky to be on the bus at all, even in the back, right?, unless we are talking about Rosa Parks who recognized that something was very wrong with the system and changed the country by protest.

    Maybe another white male candidate can fill the open seminar slot now. The dept should go check for some guys passed out in the shrubbery from the last interview! Hey, maybe they wear turtlenecks and enjoy cat-piss. Double bonus. So, I just sent an email to the chair saying that I am not interested in the position. Over and out. I feel a ton better. Totally the right thing for me to do.

    I will make a bet they hire the white male assoc prof interviewed last week. A first class jerk would fit right in, he fits the bill. I do think this is a rigged search. I think being dismissed repeatedly is a combo of not being male and a sidedoor shuffle.

    So, I had a lightbulb moment in all this. Those yahoos think that DIVERSIFYING their faculty is about bringing in people from different fields. Like coastal ecology, oceanography, hydrogeology, climatology. Not women, blacks, hispanics. I was told by one of the faculty that he is “proud of the diversity in the department.” My heart literally skipped a beat. Then I realized he did not mean gender or race, he meant disciplines. The big D word is not about recruiting minorities (increasing diversity). It is about writing a job ad for a new *Discipline* to add to their repertoire and picking “their best” person out of the applicants. Big, people, this is big for me. Maybe I’m just the slow one to Disciplinifying concept.

    The good news: No battle wounds this time. My screaming gut was right – I need to trust it more often. There are several jobs I will be applying to – filling out apps now. Hey, one even has A woman chair! Lucky day.

    The bad news: Still on the market.

    Good luck to everyone interviewing. It sucks out there. Trust your gut, easier said than done, right?

    Thank you so much Alice for posting this for me. And thank you everyone for your advice and suggestions.

  101. #101 whiffer
    October 21, 2008

    They offered this position to a woman and the male candidate was not a “first class jerk” as you so claimed. Such negativity and prejudice will certainly not serve anyone during a job search.

  102. #102 Anon
    October 22, 2008

    Sooo… whiffer, are you from the tailgating institution?

  103. #103 bubba (?)
    December 10, 2008

    Hello all,

    This message is coming to you from the chair of the search committee. That’s right, somehow the internet, including blogs like this one, gets to institutions like mine. It has been, well, eye-opening to watch this discussion from the sideline, but now that the search is resolved (we hired a woman, by the way), I’ll add a few comments for anyone who is still out there following the thread.

    Sorry, but I’m not writing to get into a game of he said/she said for the blogosphere to judge. I’m just going to offer some advice to anyone in the faculty job market, with my comments inspired by this thread. I thought these were obvious points, but apparently they aren’t.

    1. The interview is not about you. It is about the combination of you and the job. The department with the opening has needs to fill, and they will offer interviews and ultimately the job based on filling those needs. It may well be that you would rather work in another unit, especially at a large research institution. For a standard assistant professor position, the interview is not a chance for you to build your own position. If you aren’t interested in the position as advertised, don’t apply. Expect your interview to be spent with the people relevant to the position, even if you would rather talk shop with people across campus. Certainly you should get a feel for potential collaboration across units. See if people from other units are involved in the search (as they were in our case). See if there are invitations to other units to the seminar and (gasp) informal parts of the interview. Stay beyond the formal interview to visit the other units (as both of our other candidates did). But don’t expect to be able to dictate what you’ll be doing for the formal part of the interview.

    2. Do your homework. It wouldn’t take much to see that the redneck credentials so eloquently described in the blog are actually pretty thin. More generally, reconstructing the faculty history of a department will give you an idea of where it came from and where it is going.

    3. Learn how to politely decline an unwanted drink. If you didn’t manage to achieve this level of social sophistication by the time you were 19, practice in front of a mirror. Unless you are interviewing for a job in Saudi Arabia or perhaps at BYU, you will probably be offered a drink by your friendly hosts. You probably shouldn’t assume that the drink offer means that everyone else will be soon be passed out in the bushes.

    4. It probably isn’t a good idea to blog in real time while you are involved in a job search. This is especially true if you tend to reveal your insecurities, prejudice, and dishonesty.

  104. #104 TomJoe
    December 11, 2008


    You’ve acted quite foolishly in all this. Refusing to interview for a job without actually stepping foot on campus to make sure your ASSumptions were correct? Brilliant. The bad news? With your attitude, you’ll probably be “on the market” for quite some time. Jobs don’t come cheap, or by the dozen. Especially in this climate of poor economy and severe state cutbacks.

  105. #105 alex777
    December 16, 2008

    I am going to be a bit insensitive and say that

    1. I am amazed at how much people can over-react to something like this. I am guessing that many of you are from the US(?) and that the cultural climate over there is rather sensitive about this issue. But I just can’t imagin people in West Europe (like me) making such a fuss over what is very likely to be an effort to get to know the candidates’ personalities better.


    2. I just got home from an international conference. There was an opening reception and people were drinking alcohol while socializing and talking about various topics in our field. A glass of beer or wine (or yes, even orange juice!) in one hand, and the business card of a collegue or some document for registration in the other. Off topic, you say? The majority of people present were male, many of them were probably students. Some of you will not like it but events like this are much more important than you might think. If I were in a position where I had to choose between someone who can easily cope with this kind of informal parties or someone who would rather be alone in his/her hotel room, I would not hesitate for a moment…

  106. #106 gennette
    June 11, 2009

    It seems likely that this is a misguided attempt to make you feel comfortable. It is unfortunate that they mention alcohol specifically. I think this isn’t really just a male vs. female thing, though. There are plenty of men that do not drink. I have put myself in an embarrassing situation before when I suggested going out for “a beer” to a colleague who is Morman. I am a woman and the colleague is a man, so from my point of view this is not really a male vs. female issue but just a matter of personal preference.

    I would suggest reading the intent of what they say, and not the specifics. The intent is to allow you to spend time with them in a casual atmosphere. Unless you object to spending time in a casual situation in general (which you may, and that’s ok too) this shouldn’t really be a problem. Just get y’self a sweet tea, darlin’. Kick back, and relax! πŸ™‚

  107. #107 former interviewee
    September 18, 2009

    This post reads like a novel – special thanks to bubba for the twist we never saw coming – wrapping things up at the end.

    For someone stumbling onto this post, I would like to point out exhibit #87 (Alex); a must-read that brings a lot of common sense to the discussion. To play the good-ol-boy southern hick gettin’ drunk in the backyard card without knowing is as wrong as the assumption that, if you don’t play along, you’re not welcome in their department. These kind of assumptions might lead one to assume, since the dept is 90% male, they must be guilty of chasing the female candidates away. Lots of assuming going on here… instead, interview and see if you are indeed chased away – then blog about it! (btw, yes, that will happen sometimes.)

    Also, honorable mention to #106: gennette brings more common sense to the table.

    Fact is, many interviewees would be more comfortable with beer & pretzels than wine and cheese. Personally, I think you would be nuts to drink during an interview – and if you need an excuse (what, is this high school?) say “I think I’ll stick with iced tea during an interview” with a smile. In the unlikely event that the Chair says “Come on … everybody’s drinkin’ up a storm!” and chants of “drink! drink!” ensue, that could be a deal breaker. But don’t assume that’s the scenario.

    But nobody here needs me to tell you to learn how to politely say “no thanks” if offered a drink (be it beer or wine, or iced tea for that matter). bubba summed it up quite nicely!

    I feel for Are – I really do. It’s tough out there, and there is a lot of “what did they mean by that” after interviewing, and asking here was a great idea. Best of luck to you. I hope you find the perfect fit. And best of luck to bubba with your new faculty member. I’d love to have a beer with you sometime.

  108. #108 Eskort kΔ±zlar
    April 15, 2010

    There was an opening reception and people were drinking alcohol while socializing and talking about various topics in our field. A glass of beer or wine (or yes, even orange juice!) in one hand, and the business card of a collegue or some document for registration in the other..

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