Monday, February 27, 2012

Interview Tips, Part 1

As spring is approaching, that means interview season is closing in (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Even if many writers, editors, translators, and teachers work freelance or work with “parallel careers” (i.e. they have a number of part-time jobs), interviews are still a part of what we do, especially in regard to teaching. And yet they are not something we often think about or prepare correctly for.

I’ve had the pleasure of being on a number of interview panels since starting work at the University of East Anglia in England and one of the things I’ve learned most from this experience is what to do – or not to do – at interviews and presentations. It’s amazing how a candidate’s behavior, appearance, and level of preparedness can completely change the minds of the panel; someone who sounds really appropriate on paper can come across as arrogant and hard to work with in person, while someone who sounds possible but not like the best choice can blow us away with his/her intelligence and enthusiasm. Since I have participated in interviews for jobs related to literature, writing, and translation, here I will offer tips that are particularly appropriate for people working in those fields, but the general ideas can be applied to many interview and presentation situations.

Since I have so many tips, I am going to divide them into three posts.

General tips

--Wear clothes that actually fit you. Too often I’ve seen people come in wearing shirts that gap, showing off their bellies or breasts, or trousers that are too tight, offering a view of a camel toe or the outline of underpants, or that otherwise don’t fit. Don’t just trudge out your interview outfit the night before the interview; try it on days in advance and go purchase something new if necessary. People get an impression of you right away and you don’t want to make your interviewers embarrassed by the sight of too much flesh. It’s just unprofessional.

--Similarly, wear clothes that are clean and neat. I’ve been astonished to see people come in wearing stained or hole-ridden sweaters or trousers; it just suggests that they don’t care too much about their appearance, which makes the panel wonder what else they don’t care about. You may wear those clothes when writing at home, but don’t wear them to the interview. Also, if you have a presentation one day and the interview the next, don’t wear the same outfit. It gives people the impression that you aren’t particularly clean.

--Jeans generally aren’t appropriate interview wear. You don’t have to come in a business suit if that’s not your style, but don’t wear sloppy, wrinkled, overly casual clothes either. If possible, spend a day on the campus/grounds before your interview and see what the staff members seem to wear, and then dress slightly better than that.

--Also, don’t wear any heavy colognes or perfumes. I work with several people with severe allergies and you don’t want to make the interview panel gasp for breath. You also don’t want to walk out of the room and leave the panel wishing for fresh air rather than wishing for you to join their department.

--In general, try to look like you take care of yourself. While we aren’t judging you on your looks, it can put us off if you have messy hair, an unshaven face (not that you have to be cleanly shaven, just that you shouldn’t have a day or two’s worth of shadow), bad breath, or too much make-up. Your look should reflect who you are, obviously, but also remember that you’re in a professional setting and should look fairly, well, professional.

--Be aware of any nervous habits you have – biting your nails, picking your nose, jiggling your foot, playing with your hair, and so on – and avoid doing them. It’s very distracting to people who are trying to listen to you. We sympathize with you because we know interviews are nerve-racking, but a key for you is to appear calm and confident.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Round-Up of Blogs/Websites

Here are a few blogs/websites you might want to check out.

This collection of awful library books might make you laugh. My childhood friend Yvette, who used to work at a library, sent me the link.

Those of us who are bibliophiles will enjoy this bookshelf “porn”.

Another link for the bibliophiles. This is called the Joy of Books, and rightfully so. My mother, who is a librarian, sent me this.

I think Leah Palmer Preiss’s art is beautiful and it clearly appeals to literary types.

Finally, here’s a new blog on audiovisual translation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quote on Translation

The process of translating comprises in its essence the whole secret of human understanding of the world and of social communication.

--Hans Georg Gadamer

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Round-Up of Articles

Here are some articles you might find enjoyable/interesting.

This first article is by translator and writer Tim Parks. Do you need to know the language you are translating from? To what level? Does this affect translation?

The next piece is on harsh book reviews. Ouch! As a reviewer myself, I try to be fair and balanced, but never mean. Life’s hard enough without being cruel, I think.

Here’s an article about writing novels. Is the novel a dying art? Is it still relevant?

If you can read Swedish, this piece is about new Swedish words from 2011.

Finally, my mother sent me this link about the power of vowels.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

AHRC Funding Opportunity: Doctoral Studentship

Some BNW readers might be interested in applying to do a PhD in translation. If so, here's a scholarship opportunity.

The Translation Group at Imperial College London invites applications for a 3-year doctoral studentship funded by the AHRC to begin in October 2012.

Research in Translation Studies at Imperial College is carried out in a vibrant environment. Members of staff of the Translation Group are highly research active, and the Group is home to many PhD students conducting doctoral research in areas such as translation studies, translation technology, localisation, audiovisual translation and accessibility to the media. The Group nurtures a subject-specific research culture by scheduling research seminars, inviting guest speakers from the UK and abroad, welcoming academic visitors who wish to spend periods of research at Imperial College, and organising seminars, colloquia and conferences at our institution and other venues.

For further information about the Translation Group research, visit:

Studentship Award
Standard tuition fees and a maintenance grant will be paid by the AHRC for three years. For 2011-12 the maintenance grant for students in London was £15,590. EU candidates are normally eligible for a fees-only award, unless they have been ordinarily resident in the UK for 3 years immediately preceding the date of the award.

In line with research council requirements, applicants must meet UK residency criteria or be ordinarily resident in the EU. Applicants should hold a first or upper second class degree, and hold or be studying for an MSc or MA degree in modern languages, translation, or in another relevant area related to Translation Studies. Applicants should also fulfil Imperial College English language requirements, and be supported by two strong academic references. Further details concerning eligibility are available via the AHRC website at:
(pages 39-46).

How to apply
Applicants are invited to suggest their own topics of study, within the field of Translation Studies and submit a fully developed proposal. They are advised to contact a prospective supervisor to discuss their interests. For research interests of staff and of recent and current doctoral students, please visit:

Applicants should send the following documents to Tom Barbanneau at by 19th March 2012. Please note that all documentation is required in English:
  • A research proposal including information about the research background/context, research aims and questions, methodology, any required resources and/or sources, and accompanied by a complete bibliography. The following document provides some advice on how to write a PhD proposal.
  • Curriculum Vitae.
  • Two academic reference letters.
  • A supporting statement of academic interests and reasons for applying for this studentship. This statement should also include details of academic achievements and any relevant research experience.
The deadline for applications is 19th March 2012. Interviews will be held at Imperial College soon after the deadline. For enquiries, please contact Dr Rocío Baños-Piñero at

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Passionate Engagement

I have enjoyed novelist Caryl Phillips’ work since I was first introduced to it when I was doing my MFA in fiction. So I was very excited when I saw his new collection of non-fiction pieces, Colour Me English. This book is worth reading for lots of the pieces (the piece on James Baldwin was really sad and touching; Mr. Phillips’ remembrances of September 11 were likewise moving; his discussions about what it means to be English are thought-provoking), but I especially liked a section early on in the book:


I believe passionately in the moral capacity of fiction to wrench us out of our ideological burrows and force us to engage with a world that is clumsily transforming itself, a world that is peopled with individuals we might otherwise never meet in our daily lives. As long as we have literature as a bulwark again intolerance, and as a force for change, then we have a chance. Europe needs writers to explicate this transition, for literature is plurality in action; it embraces and celebrates a place of no truths, it relishes ambiguity, and it deeply respects the place where everybody has the right to be understood, both the thirteen-year-old boy whose books are thrown out of a bus window, and the boys who are throwing the books, and it judges neither party in the hope that by some often painfully slow process of imaginative osmosis one might finally recognise what passed before one’s eyes today, what occurred yesterday, and what will happen tomorrow, and it implores us to act with a compassion born of familiarity towards our fellow human beings, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, black, brown, or white. This truly is my hope for Europe, and I know that the writer has a crucial part to play in this. I believe this. And this only.


I confess that I’m rather idealistic about fiction, the way Mr. Phillips is (and I’d expand his description above to include the whole world, not just Europe), and this sometimes make me feel like I don’t belong in my literature department at the university. There, people talk about theory and about authors being dead and about the intricacies of metaphor, and while these things are indeed important to discuss (I’m not so keen on the idea of authors being dead, myself, but that’s a different story), they aren’t all there is. I’m interested in how literature affects readers and how it can change people, and ultimately change the world. People tell me I’m silly, but like Mr. Phillips, “I believe passionately in the moral capacity of fiction to wrench us out of our ideological burrows and force us to engage with” the world and with other people.

Read Caryl Phillips’ book, and read his novels, and engage with the world around you.