Tuesday, October 27, 2009

3 4 is the magic number

In comments, Applicantus asks:
How many 'projects' should one list there? 2, 4, 6? How many are too many? How many are too few? If I list and explain 2, would the SC think I'm serious, and truly have 2 I will actually embark on right away -- or that I don't have a clear program of research? If I list and explain 5, will I be perceived as creative, or unrealistic? etc etc. Any insight welcome!
This is a tough one. So, taking the usual approach people take when they have no actual answers to a tough question, I'll appeal to personal experience. On my statement, I list two areas of broad research interests corresponding to different parts of my AOS. And underneath each one of those, I list two different projects. If I'm counting right, that's four different projects right there. That might be a bit unrealistic or come off as slightly ambitious to search committees. I mean, I probably can't write four whole papers in a year, but I probably can over two years, and that's what they're looking for, right?

But, setting aside issues of what is realistic and what isn't, here's the thing. I think that I do a pretty good job of making clear that there is a guiding thread that is common to all these projects. Articulating this clearly before listing and explaining my four projects, at least makes it conceivable that when working on one of the projects, I'm setting myself up nicely for, or at least kinda/sorta working on the other projects. So, I think being able to articulate clearly the guiding thread of your research, rather than the number of papers/projects you list, demonstrates that you have your shit together and aren't just pulling projects out of your ass.

That said, if you need an arbitrary number, don't list more than four, cause that's what I'm doing.

-- Jaded Dissertator

Update: Seems in the past that similar issues about broadness/ narrowness of research statements were addressed by Mr. Z here.


Anonymous said...

I don't think number is really the issue, or what anyone's looking for. SC's aren't interested in the NUMBER of papers you'll be working on, or papers you'll be working on at all, per se. What they want to see is some clear plan for research that is cohesive, and looks like the sort of thing that will tie together much of your research for the majority of your tenure years. This normally means that they like to have a sense--however rough or not--of what general research plan you have, and what sort of things you'll be doing in 1 yr, 2 yrs, and 5 yrs.

This is because when it comes to tenure time the folks who review you are looking for evidence of a cohesive body of research that you've done and will continue with. And quite frankly, any decent research minded philosophers have some bigger picture things the are working on and within, and some smaller projects that fall into it. The big picture spans a number of years, the smaller bits are more immediate pieces of it that you'll be in to for the next year or two--and normally take the form of papers. When this stuff gets considered, the questions aren't those that pertain to 'how many papers does x plan to do', but the more general questions about what sort of research x has in mind for the next little while, and (most importantly) is that interesting, the sort of thing we'd want someone around here working on, something I care about, worthwhile, etc. (Or is it derivative, done, boring, something I could never talk to them about or care about hearing and isn't useful to their field etc.) Hence it's not about number at all, but having a research plan with research goals.

Recall the gold old days of explaining what you wanted to write the dissertation on: is it interesting, relevant, forward looking, etc.? THAT is what's at issue.

Applicantus said...

Thank you for picking up my question for a new thread!
So far I've gone with something similar to you, Jaded Dissertator, but could also imagine any other number. As Anon 9:21 suggests, it probably would be wise to throw in there something that frames the projects within the wider trajectory.
Now, what about one's AOCs, if they are the kind one publishes in? Should they be addressed, too?
Any SC members out there who may want to enlighten us on this?

Xenophon said...

Been a while since I've done Latin, but shouldn't you be either Applicatus or Applicans? And, if you're currently on the market, probably the latter?

Hey, no self-respecting Greek in the fourth century cared about Italians who couldn't speak Greek.

philo said...

I watched the new PBS Frontline program today and was struck by the similarities between some of the desperate job seekers (not to mention, people in debt) profiled and many of us on the academic job market.


I don't know if viewing this will make any of you feel better (or better by comparison), but these stories illustrate how we (un- and under-employed philosophers) are not alone in our professional and economic anxiety. Of course, this much is clear from a cursory read of the news, but this program drew out this awareness (for me) in a more personal way.

I hope that one thing that might come out of this economic mess we are in would be a greater sense of compassion for others who are out there struggling. Good luck to those of you out there taking on this beast of a market.

Applicantus said...

Xenophon, I'm clueless in either Greek or Latin, just playing around with Latin/Greek-like phonemes: a random signature... But I I'll stick with it for now.

HOWEVER, I would still like to hear from someone on a SC. Even in the older thread, it's all speculations. As one of the anons there put it very well: someone will say - go broad; another: go narrow; a third: it's relative. I want to hear some actual criteria as they're being applied by someone who's actually applying them....
Anyone out there?

Filosofer said...


Don't we already know the correct answer to this question? The answer is: there is no one right answer. Maybe the search committee at Merrimack College will find my statement of research interests very attractive because it's relatively broad, and they like the idea of someone whose serious academic interests go well beyond her dissertation research. And maybe the search committee at Northern Illinois will reject my whole application precisely because my research interests are too wide-ranging and, in their eyes, reveal that I am someone without a well-conceived, coherent plan for the next five years.

Or maybe not. Who knows? As with so many other portions of the application, all you can do is take your best shot and hope it works out.

Anonymous said...

Why do you need a well developed research plan? I don't really want one.

Mr. Zero said...

If Carl von Linné can become Carolus Linneaus, why can't an applicant become Applicantus?

Anonymous said...

More poignantly, if Hot Rod can become Rodimus Prime, then anyone can become anything.

You're got the touch, Applicantus.


Applicantus said...

Thank you all, I am now very encouraged. I have no clue as to how many research projects I should have, but I guess Filosofer's right; and I had my name validated several times over -- happy as can be, I will now go back to writing my research statement.
In the spirit of what philo said here, everything sucks but we're all in this together... once again,
Philosophy Smoker FTW!

AppliKanta said...

Very helpful thread. I have perhaps a naive question (first time on the market for this appliKanta).
When the add asks for a "comprehensive research statement," or some such, are they asking us to write this in a separate document? Or is it OK to address "comprehensive research" in the body of the cover letter?
What are your thoughts? Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

As someone at a very selective SLAC (2/2 teaching load) who has served on a number of search committees, my advice would be to be second anon 9:21 to a large extent. It is useful to have a portrait of where you see your research heading over the next 5 yrs or so.

I can't stress enough, however, that you should be as honest and realistic as possible about your research interests and plans. If you do get invited to a conference interview -- let alone an on-campus interview -- your research plans/goals are one of the areas on which we tend to focus. If you've outlined areas for your research goals about which you seem clueless during the interview, that'll raise serious red flags.

(Then again, we interviewed a person on campus a few years back whose research plans seemed, upon further questioning, to be diffuse and unoriginal. We didn't offer that person the job, but a Leiter top-25 program did. So go figure.)

Jaded Dissertator said...


Write a separate statement. Reference it and maybe describe it briefly in the cover letter, if you care to.

Xenophon said...

Mr. Zero,

Because -aeus is a standard termination when creating an adjective from a noun in Latin. Whereas for first conjugation verbs (which I assume applico would be; I don't have a dictionary handy) the past perfect participle ends in -tus and the present active participle in -ns. There are PPPs ending in -ntus, let's see . . . I think only if there's a nasal infix in the present stem. (Too many years since Comparative Grammar.) Anyone else know?

Anon 2:26, Chad Johnson became Chad Ochocinco (legally, no less) and Luke Ravenstahl became Luke Steelerstahl before the championship game last year (not legally, however). What's your point?

Anon 2:26 said...

My point is, that was an awesome scene from "Transformers: The Movie."

AppliKanta said...

Jaded D, thanks for the tip.