Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plans for future research

In addition to worrying about my writing sample, I've been revamping my research statement. When I first drafted it, I was given the advice that I should keep it focused on a narrow set of problems in my AOS, so that it seems like I really have a well-developed, well-thought-out research program involving a set of closely-related problems in a way that emphasizes the fact that I am a specialist in my advertised area of specialization. That seems basically right to me.

But I know this guy who's an Averroes scholar, and he told me a story about his successful on-campus interview. It seemed to him that he got the job at the moment he stressed that he wasn't just an Averroes scholar; that he also had interests in contemporary metaphysics and applied ethics. According to him, this is when they realized that he was well-rounded and not "narrow." That makes me wonder whether I shouldn't try to use my research statement to indicate my "broadness."

Maybe there's a difference between the Averroes scholar and me. Maybe Averroes scholarship is inherently more narrow than my AOS, and indicating "broadness" in my research statement will signal a lack of seriousness, or that I'm some kind of a flighty dabbler. Or maybe the research statement should indicate narrowness, and then I can surprise them with my broadness when i get to campus. I don't know. Do you?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I remember getting the same advice when I was in grad school: keep your research interests focused, or else it'll look like your interests are thin and unserious. But I think for the job I ultimately landed (at a SLAC with a small 3-person department), they were eager to see the ways I was reaching out. Maybe it would be good to have two statements: one for research-oriented departments (those with MA & PhD programs, prestigious SLACs with big-ish departments and significant research expectations) and another for departments that are a little bit more teaching-focused, and that have smaller departments and so need you to be a bit more of a generalist.

Anonymous said...

Do you have published or unpublished papers in the areas you'll list? Seems like if you do, it could be a good idea to include those areas in your projected research, but if you don't, people might think you're reaching and it would be better to let that stuff happen when it happens.

Big D said...

The situation with the Averroes scholar is atypical, because he's specialized in an area not typically deemed essential for undergraduate teaching.

Thus an Averroes scholar (or a specialist in any area of "non-Western" philosophy) would do better to sell themselves as well-rounded. There's not much that can be generalized from this, however.

Ben said...

I'm guessing really, but I'd imagine a broad AOS will be more useful in the kind of places that will want you to teach a wide range of intro/service courses.

Also, while you're not really bound to your statement anyway, there's surely some value in telling the truth rather than attempting to second-guess what prospective employers want, since that way you'll be able to talk more enthusiastically about your proposals.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have conferenced on topics that are not in my particular AOS, so I mention plans for papers for those in my research statement. But in that case, I have the credentials to back it up. I wouldn't mention anything I don't have any independent evidence for.

Anonymous said...

Tailor your research statement to the institution and department you're applying to. If they ask for a research statement, then they are probably a research-oriented department. But maybe not. Maybe it is a teaching school with low research requirements, but they're curious about whether you have a fairly well developed research plan and whether you will make it to tenure. If so, then you might talk about how your research and teaching are highly integrated, and how you are a generalist. But if it is a top research school, then the narrower the better. It goes without saying that you will also have to gauge your description of your research to your audience, the department and the institution when you do a fly-out interview. It is also a good idea to ask about your potential colleagues' research. Show interest. Feed the egos. They'll like that.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how specialized one should appear. MIT grads, for instance, often come out with dissertations devoted to one tiny problem. They might be focused on just trolleys. (I don't say this to disparage MIT.) But ethics is a very big field. If you have papers on four different areas in ethics, you might look far less focused than an MIT grad coming out with a dissertation on just some tiny little issue. But your four papers might be in the same AOS. Now, if you have papers on other topics in another area, say on some problem in philosophy of mind and another in metaphysics, you will look extremely broad. Does this hurt one's chances on the job market? I have no idea. It seems that breadth should be considered good if it leads to publication. Getting articles accepted should ensure that there is sufficient depth. I'm not sure how much committees second guess these things. And I'm not sure that it would be a problem if someone worked on very disparate topics in a few different areas. Why would it? . . .

zombie said...

The research statement should be focused on a particular interest/area/problem. Unless you're an extremely diverse Nagel-like scholar, that will tend to be pretty narrow. But it is also meant to be your research interests right NOW, not forever and in total. It's not meant to be read as if you have no other interests in philosophy, but rather that you have a particular research emphasis that you're developing and working on. Mine was on a particular area of bioethics, where I focused on two problems that I wanted to address, emphasizing what was important about those problems and how I planned to tackle them. So while it was narrow, it was not razor thin.
I was asked very rarely for my research statement in job apps. It was more useful for PDF apps.
While some non-researchy type places might ask for it, I tend to think they want to know that you ARE thinking about something beyond your dissertation, and do have some kind of independent and worthwhile contribution to make to scholarship in your field.

Anonymous said...

I stuck to discussing projects I have actually started (in some way, shape or form) in my research statement. Then during my interviews I discussed other areas I would like to explore "some day".

On a related topic, in an effort to keep my CV to two pages, I only included information relevant to my AOS and AOCs (e.g. only listed courses I took in these areas). I was scolded for this during an on campus interview (by someone who was happy to hear I have taken many classes in his field and was interested in discussing his work with him). So, while you probably want to keep your research statement focused, in hindsight I realize it is better to include everything relevant to your abilities as a philosopher on your CV -- brevity doesn't seem to matter. (I did get this job at a research institution, and I think demonstrating that my interest/competence in areas outside my AOS/AOCs helped me win over a few faculty members during the on campus interview.)

Anonymous said...

I recommend not describing research projects that are outside the areas you list as your AOSs and AOCs. That may sound obvious, but I've seen applications that mention future research topics that are totally unrelated not only to the applicant's dissertation, but also to the applicant's stated areas of specialization and competence.

That always makes me suspect that an applicant is saying what he or she thinks the search committee wants to hear--perhaps by adjusting the AOS/AOC statements too much to fit the ad, or by adding remarks to the research statement (for the sake of indicating breadth) that have no connection to his or her real plans for satisfying research expectations for tenure.

Anonymous said...

CU Boulder hired a Princeton ABD a few years ago and justified the hiring decision (which involved passing over many highly qualified candidates with Ph.D. in hand) by stating that the candidate had to specialize in the free will/determinism debate (and no other candidates did). Odd how so man faculty there have Princeton Ph.D.s. As my pappy used to say: you are entitled to one thing, son, a kick in the ass! To which I agreed, and added that if you have a Ph.D. from an Ivy, then you deserve two kicks, since you probably believe that they are entitled to more than the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's any principled answer to the question you're asking. If any general approach ends up working for you, it'll be good fortune not wise planning.

Put aside SLACs for the moment. (I think it's absolutely the case that at nearly any SLAC, demonstrated philosophical breadth in both ability and interest is thought to be a virtue.) Even "leiterrific" programs differ substantially in how they regard breadth when making junior hires. Some care more than others; some a lot more. How much the department-as-a-whole cares about breadth could even differ from year to year depending on who is on sabbatical and not involved in the hiring decision.

I think I could say more here, but the I'll cut to the chase: Unless you like obsessing about things about which you have little or no control (that's a big 'unless' when talking to graduate students and junior faculty), you're better off not wasting your time second-guessing hiring institutions, and the "profession," on such matters.

When you hear members of search committees at institutions of all types and levels talk about "fit" between the department and the candidate, this is in part a nod to the idea that finding a reliable recipe for how to present yourself is a bit futile.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Anon. 1:50,

What's your point and how does it relate to the original post? (That's not an actual question.) I see some tenuous connection, namely you mention the specialization issue, but overall it has nothing to do with Zero's question.

I wouldn't normally post such irrelevant comments, but I thought it would be useful to indicate some of the collegiality issues the profession has that I've mentioned before. That said, back to the original question!

Anonymous said...

Oh good god.

We have had this same discussion re every piece of the application: cv, writing sample, teaching statement, etc., and we have had it ad nauseum.

We know the answers that we'll get. Some people will say go narrow, some will say go broad, some will say go in between, some will say "narrow" and "broad" are relative terms, some will say tailor the statement to the school, some will say it doesn't fucking matter because you're not from NYU or the like (unless you are).

I do not mean this as an offensive comment, Mr. Zero. Generally I think your posts are absolutely fantastic, and even this one I think is a good question to ask.

I'm just so fucking sick of tinkering with the various parts of my application that just thinking about it makes me want to vomit, and then drink until I vomit again, and then gag myself until I vomit one more time, just for good measure.

Oh yeah, and I'm sure some dipshit will tell me that my attitude is the reason I haven't landed and probably won't land a job. Ever. In this field or any other. In this or any other possible world. So I think I'll just preemptively tell that dipshit to kiss my ass.

Anonymous said...

1:50 here,

The point is that the CU Boulder search committee's interest in a candidate with an extremely narrow area of research was likely a pretext for narrowing the field to one person: viz. the one who shares the pedigree of most members of the committee. No lack of collegiality is intended...the point is that we should be realistic about the job search process. Some search committees have agendas, and no matter how much we try to strategically second-guess the committee members' intentions, whether announcing that our research area is wide or narrow, in some cases we still do not stand a chance in hell of getting the position! Perhaps the pappy story was a bit much, but I still think that he was right...no matter what you achieve in academe, you're still not entitled to much--not even a fair shake in a hiring process.

Anonymous said...

Having recently served on the search committee at an ELAC, here are my two cents.

I think a statement of research interests should aim to do one thing above all: demonstrate that you have a serious, well-focused, longish-term research program. Including anything else here (side interests) will simply lessen the punch of the piece.

However, it is definitely important to indicate the breadth of your philosophical (and by extension, teaching) interests when applying to LACs, and there's a place to do this: your cover letter, which should be adjusted to speak to the particular needs of the department you're applying to. (I wouldn't bother with this for R1 institutions -- not because it will hurt your chances, but because it won't matter.)

A Boulder professor said...

Wrong and wrong, 1:50. None of the Princeton people were on that search committee, though of course, all faculty had an opportunity to read and comment on the files. We have some grad students working in that area, we had some teaching needs in that area, and the candidate was (and continues to be) a very good fit. Sad to say, he's leaving us for another prestigious post-doc.

As for the "agendas" of search committees, maybe re-evaluate that claim. All searches are conducted to find a candidate who is a good fit. Sometimes there's a gap, sometimes the department is looking to strengthen its offerings, sometimes the department needs to balance a discrepancy. Usually multiple criteria must be satisfied to call a candidate a good fit, and usually multiple constituencies within the department must be satisfied _with the candidate_ to call the candidate a good fit.