Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reluctantly Crouched at the Starting Line

Job Market Season is about to begin, and I am ready:

  • Cover letters; customized across several dimensions. ✓
  • Writing sample. ✓
  • Updated CV. ✓
  • Updated research statement. ✓
  • Updated teaching statement. ✓
  • Sample syllabi, updated. ✓
  • Teaching evaluations, current. ✓
  • Updated letters of recommendation. ✓
  • APA membership, renewed. ✓
  • A vague memory of how I set up a mail-merge last year. ✓
  • Bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse. ✓
  • 1.75L bottle of Bombay Sapphire; 750ml bottle vermouth; bucket of olives; ice. ✓

In addition, I took the time to rewrite my materials in LaTeX; I figured, there's no point in taking the time to learn it without without using to whatever advantage on the job market. Say what you want about the content, my shit looks awesome.

Another thing I spent some time worrying about is the role my dissertation should play in my application materials this time around. Since I've been out for a while now, it seems to me that my dissertation should play a less central role. So now my dissertation is the starting point, but the focus is on what I've accomplished since then.

And although I'm not really excited about it, exactly, I wish the fucking JFP would drop already so I could get on with this fucking thing.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Last night I dreamed that the JFP came out early. It's going to be a long job season.

Anonymous said...

Through all that earlier discussion of LaTex, I kept thinking, "But I really don't care whether my manuscripts look great." But for your CV, yeah, I get that.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that you're competing against philosophers who are currently in TT positions and settled for a less than ideal job the first go-around. They're back on the market with a vengeance! Good luck.

Tenure said...

When Cake lyrics start coming to mind, then you know you're ready.

Break a leg!

Anonymous said...

May the force be with you.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand this ad:

*70. UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, CHICAGO, IL. Position Title: Assistant Professor in Ethics. Req # 00540. The Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago invites applications for a tenure-track position in Ethics. Rank: entry-level Assistant Professor. Minimum teaching load: four courses/year; graduate and undergraduate; usual dissertation, committee responsibilities. Ph.D. preferred by October 1, 2011. Required elements of the dossier are cover letter, CV, teaching statement, dissertation abstract, teaching evaluations, research statement, three references' contact information, syllabi, and writing sample. Optional elements are up to four publications and a second writing sample which may also be a publication. Everything except the letters of reference must be submitted via the Academic Careers Website ( The letters of reference may be submitted 1) through the website (strongly preferred), 2) by email to with the subject heading ETHICS SEARCH, or 3) by mail to: Ethics Search Committee Chair, Department of Philosophy, 1115 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637-1511. Application review begins on Oct. 28, 2010, and continues until position is filled. For full consideration, all electronically uploaded materials, emailed materials, and mailed materials must be received by November 10, 2010. Position contingent upon funding approval. The University of Chicago is an Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer. (SW10), posted 8/25/10

What are the 4 publications, if not writing samples 2-5?

BunnyHugger said...

Against my better judgment I'm going on the market too. Me and my stale -- at this point maybe a better word is "moldy" -- Ph.D. and my three publications (two very old, one brand new). It's hopeless and will be a waste of money like it was last year when I didn't get so much as an APA interview. But somehow I feel obliged.

Meanwhile, at the institution where I work on a yearly contract, the non-tenure-track faculty have just voted in a union. I am pretty sure I know my future. In fact, I think I am already living in it.

Good luck, everyone, and I will rely on this blog for cheer, same as last year.

Anonymous said...

One thing to watch out for with LaTex. A friend did his resume in LaTex and it looked beautiful, but when you selected the text in Acrobat from the PDF and pasted it into a plain text email it looked like gibberish. Some apply on line systems allow you to upload a DOC or PDF, but then just scrape the text, so watch out for this problem.

Happy said...

I am going on the market this year for the first time. I am at the end of my program with a full draft of my dissertation in hand. I'm going to defend my dissertation and get my Ph.D. this year, and it is going to be glorious. People have told me I should put that off if I strike out on the job market, but I'm not going to. I may end up unemployed, but I will be Dr. Unemployed. I don't know what the future holds, but I'll be damned if I let the stupid job market spoil what is surely a remarkable achievement. I think everyone here should have a similar attitude. We have all achieved remarkable things, regardless of what the dysfunctional job market says.

Anonymous said...

Break a leg guys.

Anonymous said...


How stale? Are you over 40? If so, in your cover letter work in the phrase "as a member of a protected class under federal employment discrimination law, I...". It's true, you know.

Could be the difference between getting an interview or not, and what happens from there is up to you. I can't be sure, but I think doing this saved my career.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:35--I think Chicago has decided that it's simply cheaper to post and advertise several positions every year than to actually hire anyone.

Anon 11:24--"Could be the difference between getting an interview or not, and what happens from there is up to you." The second conjunct is clearly very often largely false.

Xenophon said...

Two weeks from today, right? Any bets on how much earlier people will be able to access the listings by playing with URLs? Or how many hours after the official launch of JFP the APA's system crashes?

As for Chicago, I think they're trying to tell you how many optional documents you can upload into their online system (in which case, kudos to Chicago for understanding the process from the applicant's position). Be nice if they told us how large the documents could be. . . .

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:29: Did I miss something in your post? I'm a grad student in the Chicago department now, so I can attest: we hired four junior faculty last year. We also had searches that came up empty, sure, but when we've found candidates we like, we've been hiring them. If your comment was meant as a dig, it seems demonstrably inapt.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:24--"Could be the difference between getting an interview or not, and what happens from there is up to you." The second conjunct is clearly very often largely false.

I think "clearly very often largely false" is my new favorite phrase.

BunnyHugger said...

Anon 11:24: I'm not quite there yet. My "moldy" Ph.D. was acquired in 2004 and I did a year of adjuncting after that and then have been in a renewing one-year gig ever since.

The truth is, I know I have it better than a lot of people, so I should probably shut up. It's just that the awareness that I am in a dead end tends to be bad for my morale and sense of self worth.

Applicantus said...

11:24 -- interesting strategy. i would think: point out that you're a member of an often discriminated-against class, and you will immediately 'enjoy' the bias that comes with it. i mean i would be wary of pointing out there's a reason why i may be regarded as a less than desirable candidate - however illegal this may be. but you think this is not how it works? hard for me to see how the legal reminder outweighs the introduction of bias. i'd wager you got the job just because you were what they were looking for, over 40 or not.

Anonymous said...

11:24 here. By "what happens" I meant "what happens in the interview"; sorry if that wasn't clear.

Believe me, I have as much reason as anyone to moan; I was on the market for six years before landing the TT that led to tenure. But it would be good to remember:

Anonymous said...

As I would like to try the American market (I'm in the equally dismal European market at the moment, in a country where they are seriously considering scrapping all postdoc grants), I was wondering if you guys could fill me in on some things:
- can a few good publications trump the fact that one's PhD is from an obscure, non-American university?
- how important are letters of recommendation? What is their weight in the total picture? (E.g., in the UK they often only ask letters of recommendation after they shortlisted some candidates).
- supposing you manage to secure a TT job, how are the odds of actually obtaining tenure? Is a TT a kind of postdoc with a slim chance on tenure?
- what is a teaching statement? This is never asked in my country of origin. What do you say in this?

Anonymous said...

@9:52--here are a few answers to your questions--but you should keep in mind that there is little rationality or even consistency in many areas of the American job market, so there are likely multiple conflicting answers to your questions. But here is what I can say based on what I have experienced (I am a recently tenured professor who has been on both sides of the process several times during the past decade)

--On publications overcoming obscure PhD: that probably depends on the publications. If they are really strong, the answer is probably yes, but I fear you will still be fighting an uphill battle.

--On letters of recommendation: at many schools (and not just big research PhD-granting schools) they are massively important. If at all possible try to make contacts with a respected faculty member at an American school (or with someone well-respected in America) so they can write you a letter. I have the sense that this will help overcome an obscure PhD more than publications will.

--Regarding getting tenure after you get a TT job (I am most confident in this claim): at the vast majority of schools there is an expectation that if you are good enough to be hired, you should be good enough to get tenure. There are hoops to jump through and difficult standards to live up to, of course, but it is clearly attainable. It is only at certain very highly-ranked schools that TT jobs are more or less de facto post-docs.

--On "Teaching Statements": this is a sort of narrative about your "teaching philosophy", i.e. a description of what you think about teaching, what your aims are, what kinds of methods you use, etc...

And one last bit of advice that you didn't ask for--if at all possible, try to sharpen your spoken English (if that is needed--I guess I am making an unwarranted assumption about you here) before going on the market. For better or worse, I know of more than one department over here that won't hire people with thick accents for fear that it will hamper their teaching. Even if you don't run into people with this prejudice, the practice should be a good thing generally.

KateNorlock said...

Whoops, cyberspace ate my comment. Sorry if this is a double-post, trying again:

I sure wouldn't mind if Anon9:52's post was a new thread, hosting friends?

And I am moved to offer a copy of my old teaching statement, which senior scholars should do more often. This was part of two successful job applications. It's posted to my Google docs as 'searchable by everyone on the web,' so please, gang, don't plagiarize, please:

Anonymous said...

11:24 again:

I really don't know. All I have to go by is Mill's Methods. No veiled threat of lawsuit, no interviews despite a recent book with Oxford. Veiled threat of lawsuit, interview, hire, tenure. It may have helped that I'm pretty sure that the reason why people were averse to interviewing me was that one could easily infer my age from my CV. So the veiled threat of lawsuit was immediately responsive to the thought in the reader's mind "well, he seems stale, too old, let's not interview him." "Right: and it's the very thought that you just had which will cause you to be deposed in a lawsuit against your institution for *your* behavior, and embarrassed in front of your peers for insensitivity and prejudice." So no, I don't think it reinforces bias. I think it kills it dead, at least as regards its behavioral manifestations, which is all that matters. And you know what? I'm OK with that. We have created these laws for a reason.

Anonymous said...


I agree with the accent point, but I should also mention that many Americans have insecurities in relation to Europeans too, so if you are French or German, this may inspire irrational admiration, or irrational resentment, while other European nationalities may inspire irrational disdain. (I exclude the English speaking countries because Leiter makes it easy to incorporate them into the pecking order US institutions are in). But this is all very speculative. If you work on "Continental" philosophy and are from a country associated with that in people's minds, this may be to your advantage; "Analytic" (yeah yeah, no such distinction, whatever) not so much.

I observed a strong candidate from the UK not go forward in one of our searches because subtle cultural cues were misread as snootiness. At least I think that's what I was seeing. So apart from fluency, I would also consider (as yucky as I find advising this) trying to emulate "Americanness" (more relaxed and informal, more cheerful, more self-effacing in a sense) in interview if possible. For that matter, I recommend that American candidates simulate those qualities too. The "I'm the smartest guy in the room" vibe which serves you in graduate school hurts you in interview, is my impression.

Anonymous said...

At research universities teaching statements are all but uniformly ignored. They may receive a passing glance--to make sure you've written one--but no decision to interview will ever depend on it, and it won't do you any good. (Ask the last interviewer at a research dept when the last time was he or she found themselves saying "this cv is pretty weak, but that was such a great teaching statement we should interview them...).

At smaller colleges they may care a little more, but what matters is that you look like you've thought a little about teaching. If you've done that, good enough.

And that's why not only should you not steal Kate's teaching statement, you shouldn't want to. (And not just because she talks of 'students' parts' and not 'on the part of her students' as she should).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kate for posting your teaching statement. (And to other posters for their suggestions)!
This is truly useful. As a matter of fact, I am surprised how much still depends on testimony by established people and on the reputation on your grad school, rather than strictly on merit. Of course, I realize that both factors also say something about your merit (i.e., a letter of recommendation will not gratuitously state 'this is the best student I had in years), but still...

Anonymous said...

"if you are French or German, this may inspire irrational admiration, or irrational resentment"


KateNorlock said...

Oh, yes, agreed with 4:54 that the teaching statement should not be as weighty in your applications to research-centered institutions. I should have emphasized that my previous jobs have been SLACs and undergraduate-teaching-centered medium-sized universities.

Since there are more teaching jobs than research-institution jobs, though, you do want to codge one of these up, just to give people a sense of your you-ness.

Students' parts!! Hee hee.

KateNorlock said...

Oh, hey, holy geez, after re-reading 4:54, I rush to add that I disagree with the statement, "At smaller colleges they may care a little more, but what matters is that you look like you've thought a little about teaching. If you've done that, good enough."

Not good enough! Unless you're applying to, I don't know, some place that actually doesn't care. I served on six separate search committees at my SLAC four of which were in philosophy, and as we (surprise!) had far more applicants than we could ever dream of hiring, we had our pick of applicants with a demonstrable commitment to excellent undergraduate teaching, and applicants who only seemed to have thought of teaching shortly before hitting the 'print' button.

Hopefully applicants are tailoring their cover letters and applications to the institution, and hopefully you noticed if an institution to which you're applying is a SLAC of only undergraduates. I urge such applicants to mention teaching early and often: in the cover letter, in the 'statement,' and in the vita.

Word verification: billy

Anonymous said...

I would recommend taking the advice on being 'less formal' with a heap of salt. Depending on what part of Europe you are from, you may find that you need to be much more formal in your demeanor while interviewing and generally in your professional interactions within academia. Cheerful, non-pompous - that's always good advice. But formality is very relative, and to some of us America is a very formal place.

Euthyphronics said...

I suspect for candidates from overseas the formal/non-formal distinction is going to be a bit of a red herring. What really matters is that all sort of subtle things -- body language, intonation patterns, word choice -- may well send a different message in the US than they do at home.

The attitude you want to convey is relaxed, confident, responsible, professional, and friendly (and hella smart). Also non-arrogant/non-threatening for places that aren't at the top of the research food chain, but ready to hold your own and give as good as you get at places that are.

That's a tall order for anyone, and taller still if you're trying to convey it in a foreign non-verbal dialect. It's hard to know how to best prepare for it. My suggestion: get a trustworthy American friend or colleague to give you some coaching. If the friend suggests you have cause for concern, work on it hard before the APA so that you won't have to spend too much mental effort on these non-verbal issues during the actual interviews. (You'll have work enough to do just answering the questions...)

Anonymous said...

In my search committee experience, people cull the stack of applicants by quickly skimming the cover letter, reading the cv and looking over the letters.

When faced with 300 applicants, very few people read everyone's entire file.

Sadly, this means that letters of recommendation are hugely important. People will read letters from people they know and/or respect, so it is in your interest to pick letter writers wisely if possible.

I bet most folks will only read your writing sample if you make the short list of 10 or so.

Anonymous said...

Here's another observation from my personal experience on search committees, left as a counterweight to the previous comment.

At my unranked but fairly ambitious research department, we tend to take the opposite approach from the previous commenter's. We tend to ignore cover letters, and we do at least skim every writing sample. (We don't care about teaching at that stage, unless there's evidence that the applicant would be a positively bad teacher.) I myself frequently read or at least skim the writing sample before I read anything else, since the sample provides the best evidence of philosophical ability and professional promise. It's the one place in the application where you know you aren't being spun by the applicant or the applicant's allies.

I report (based on three searches in the past six years) that no one does what the previous commenter reports. You'd lose the respect of everyone else on the committee if you did that. There's a box on a form that you have to fill in with some comment about the applicant. Almost every comment says something at least a little bit substantive about the applicant's -- that is, every applicant's -- ideas and work.

It's a lot of work, but many of us view search committee service as a way of broadening our philosophical horizons.

Xenophon said...

I find 11:09's comments very interesting. I think this approach is confined to a relatively small number of departments, mostly un- or low-ranked PhD and perhaps MA programs that want to improve their research profile at all cost. This isn't a criticism. It makes sense for those departments to act that way. But remember that most jobs are at teaching institutions, which will approach things very differently.

I am curious how Anon skims 300 technical papers in philosophy and does justice to them all. I can't help but think that many get a ver cursory reading.

Anonymous said...

11:09 here. Let me make a couple of observations in reply to Xenophon.

(1) We define our positions rather narrowly, so we don't get 300 applications. I think the last search was just under 200.

(2) Assuming a three-person search committee, every file is assessed by two members on the first pass. So each member does not read every file.

(3) Still, that's 150+ files to read by the end. The aim isn't to do justice to each applicant's writing sample, but to assess the file on the basis of at least some evidence of the applicant's philosophical ability found therein -- as opposed to just reading the letters and assessing the file on the basis of the applicant's recommenders' skills and standing.

Generally, it's a flawed process. But I wanted to register the observation that we do make some effort to assess each applicant directly on the basis of his or her philosophical writing.

I also understand that not every department can do this. A smaller department usually wouldn't have people with relevant expertise. And if you define the position as broadly as you may need to for curricular reasons, you may simply get too many applications.

CTS said...

I want to second Kate's remarks about the importance of the teaching statement (and evaluations/teaching awards/etc. if you have them).

Most jobs are at SLACS or CCs; even at the research places, pressure to focus on "student learning outcomes" is increasing. Unless you are a true god - and obviously so to people looking at your documents - you should be paying attention to teaching.

Hank said...

I know that this is a dead thread, but I just wanted to say that I don't get all the questions about the importance of teaching statements, writing samples, and the like. As far as any applicant is concerned, you should consider EVERY FACET OF YOUR APPLICATION OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE!! You just don't know what each individual search committee member is going to find important.

And in this uber-competitive market, you need to aim higher than high in everything. As it stands, I bet that most of you look pretty similar on a lot of fronts, and there is not much you can do about that now. But if you somehow think that your teaching statement is not all that important, and thus slack on it, Joe Blow who looks pretty similar to you but has a better teaching statement, will stand out above you.

Bottom line: make your shit shine so that it is as blinding as it can be. Then go back and make it better.

Xenophon said...

Anon 11:09,

I hope you don't take my comments as a criticism. If a department is going to ask me to send a writing sample, I hope they'll take the time to look it over, so I appreciate that you do this.

Still, there are times where effort counts, and times where performance is what matters. I've had students, and I'm sure you have to, who think they should get at least a C on their paper (or B, or A) because they worked hard on it. Some professors give credit for effort (or proxies for it) but I don't. So there's room for differences of opinion in this case.

I think faculty hiring is similar. I'm inclined to say it's admirable that you make the effort, but ultimately I'd say the decision who you end up choosing as a colleague is what matters. I'm not sure what the best way is to make such a decision, but clearly different decision procedures are called for at different institutions. And since I don't know your school, I can't assess your methods.

I would, however, be interested in a discussion (maybe a new thread, hint, hint, Mr. Zero et al) on what constitutes "philosophical ability," to what extent this is relative to particular institutional environments, and how one goes about assessing it (in hiring, tenure/promotion, etc.).